Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have Tax, Will Travel

Every day, tens of thousands of local commuters like me travel between Baltimore City and County via the Jones Falls Expressway. While Baltimore doesn't have a commuter's tax like other major cities do, it may soon have its own “commuting” tax if, as rumored, the City’s new beverage tax migrates up the JFX.
As you probably remember, last spring Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed a packaging tax of 4 cents per container on sales of water, soft drinks, teas, beer and juice drinks sold inside the City limits. Proponents favored the $11 million in new revenue it was expected to generate for the cash-strapped City.  Opponents such as retailers, bottlers and wholesalers screamed bloody murder.  Specifically, they argued that Baltimore residents may punish local retailers by deciding to venture out to the suburbs to shop for their favorite beverages.
The proposal died on a tie vote, but City Council President Young resurrected it after Councilwoman Helen Holton, the poster girl for legislative ethics, switched her vote from a nay to yea after the proposal was amended to reduce the tax to 2 cents per container.
Where does Baltimore County come into the story?
Sources close to the beverage industry tell me that, during the City’s gyrations over the bill, it was rumored that Jack Young called the redoubtable Chairman of the Baltimore County Council, John “Johnny O” Olszewski. The conversation was rumored to be something along the lines of, “Chairman O, this is President Y. We have a little problem with this beverage tax. It seems our retail establishments are going to get killed unless you County folks adopt a tax of your own. How about it?” The Big O reportedly responded, “That’s a fine idea, but we need to get through our elections first. Call me November 3rd”.
Of course all of this is just rumor. But just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone isn’t out to get you!  Indeed, when Councilman Olszewski was asked at the Dundalk Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum whether he supported or opposed a Baltimore City-style beverage container tax for the County, he failed to give a straight answer.
Someone should ask the Councilman and his fellow Democratic councilmanic candidates, not to mention County Executive nominee Kevin Kamenetz, what the deal is. Will they support a county beverage tax, or won’t they?

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