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Retailers Want Beverage Tax Repealed

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BALTIMORE (WJZ) –New battles are brewing over Baltimore’s bottled beverage tax.  It’s been in effect almost a year, and now the city is making house calls to enforce it.

Kai Jackson has more on the city’s new push and the outcry from local businesses.

There’s concern by city leaders that money from the beverage tax is falling short.  That’s no surprise to opponents, who say it’s hurting their businesses.

Faced with a $121 million budget deficit, the Baltimore City Council passed a two-cent beverage tax last year.  City leaders hoped it would close the budget gap.

“We’re cut to the bone.  Without new revenue, basic city services will be impacted,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at the time.

Beer, soft drinks and juice with less than 10 percent fruit juice were subject to the tax.  The Bi-Rite grocery store on Bel Air Road is a family-owned business that’s been in Baltimore since the 1960s.  The owner says the beverage tax—even though it’s just two cents—is killing her.

“It’s affected us by driving our customers into the county to purchase more of their sodas,” said Sandy Vary.

“The taxes add up,” said Tasha Coppedge, Northeast Baltimore. “I think they need to do away with it.”

According to the law, beverage distributors pay the tax to the city up front.  They pass that cost to retailers, who pass it along to the customers.  So news that the city would be auditing retailers was puzzling.

“The fact that somebody from the city can come in and is authorized to access our business records is a concern to us,” Vary said.

The law says businesses and distributors are responsible for keeping accurate records and those records are subject to city audit.  There’s no word about whether that could lead to a challenge in court.

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