Kenny Tarrant said he never saw it coming. After working with the Baltimore City Animal Control for years, he recently became a victim of the city’s desperate measures to seal the historic deficit. With nothing else to lose, he joined union workers as they rallied before City Hall on June 14 to convince City Council members to pass the beverage tax.
“Last week I received my layoff notice, and as of June 30 I no longer have health insurance,” Tarrant said. “My wife is very sick. That’s what I’m out here walking for.”
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the City Union of Baltimore (CUB) joined together to sway undecided City Council members to pass the 4 cents tax on beverage containers. Proposed by Mayor Rawlings-Blake as part of her comprehensive plan to close the $121 million deficit, the tax, if passed, promises $11 million in new revenue. The bottle tax passed through the Council’s Finance Committee with a 4-1 decision on May 10 and is now awaiting a majority vote by the entire Council.
“We’re almost there,” said AFSCME 67 President Glenn Middleton. “We believe that there’s just a few more votes that we need. There are some Council people we need that are on the fence.”
Chanting, “Four cents makes sense,” union workers expressed concern over additional layoffs to city jobs if the beverage tax is not passed. Picket signs read, “Don’t balance the budget on our backs” and “Baltimore City works because … we do.”
CUB specialist Jim Anthony can’t understand how the city expects to collect taxes if officials cut taxpayers. “Most of the people they’re laying off are city residents,” he said. “They pay us the least and we take the brunt of what happens. We do the jobs no one else wants to do.”
But Lester Davis, spokesman for the Council president’s office, said the idea that city workers would be laid off if the beverage tax is not passed is “completely false.” Rather, he said, cuts would take place regardless of how the beverage tax plays out.
“There were always going to be 250 layoffs,” of which 100 would be occupied positions, Davis said. “If the Council doesn’t end up passing the beverage bill, no more people would be laid off than were originally outlined.”
The mayor generated $70 million through reductions in city services and jobs as part of her comprehensive plan, which includes the 250 cuts. The Council has now approved two new revenue packages totaling $50 million – $41.5 million of which will go to maintaining fire and police departments and recreation centers – but neither includes the beverage tax.
Councilman Bill Henry, D-Dist. 4, feels the beverage tax could put Baltimore City at a geographic disadvantage by pushing residents to purchase their beverages in Baltimore County.
“I think that there are Council members that, if they can get strong commitment for ways that it would be used, they would consider voting for a beverage tax,” Davis said. “They’re still working that out.”
How the remaining $8 million from the revenue packages will be spent has not yet been decided, but the mayor has suggested it be put toward graffiti removal and other city cleaning services. Rawlings-Blake said she looks forward to discussing that further with Council members, but Middleton has his own suggestion.
“Save the city jobs,” he said. “City workers represent the heart of the city and the fabric of this community.”