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City Council gives preliminary OK to bottle tax

A key committee of the Baltimore City Council voted Monday afternoon to send a proposed 3-cent increase in the city’s bottle tax to the full council for a vote this month.

The Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee voted out the controversial proposal without a recommendation.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake proposed the increase in the container tax from 2 cents to 5 cents, effective July 2013, as a means to pay for public school construction. Under the mayor’s plan, the increase would raise $10 million and help support a planned $300 million bond sale to help pay for the school repairs.

Critics of the increased tax say it will force shoppers to purchase beverages in Baltimore County or other surrounding metropolitan areas.

Ellen Valentino, executive director of the Maryland Delaware D.C. Beverage Association, which has bitterly fought the proposed increase this spring, said the committee’s vote was stunning.

The Committee chairman, Councilman Carl Stokes, has said he opposed the increased tax and vowed to hold the bill in committee. But supporters of Rawlings-Blake’s plan on the council, which is a majority of the 14-member panel, announced last week they were planning a legal maneuver to push the legislation to the council floor for a vote.

“We’re stunned,” Valentino said. “At a time when the citizens of Baltimore are overtaxed and unemployed that the city would move forward with a policy that clearly would set the city back economically. It’s a job killer … we’re urging the council and mayor to reconsider. There’s got to be a better way.”

Rawlings-Blake spokesman Ian Brennan said in a statement: “The mayor is pleased that the legislation is moving forward and we’re one step closer to making one of the largest investments in public education in two generations.”

Stokes did not immediately return a call seeking comment.