Tuesday, January 3, 2012

What Do You Think of Increasing the Bottle Tax to Fund Schools?

Mayor Rawlings-Blake is advancing a bill that would raise Baltimore’s bottle tax from two cents to five cents. All bottle tax revenue would be used to fund school renovation and repairs. The Baltimore Sun article, Rawlings-Blake readies for battle over proposal to raise bottle tax describes the bill and some of the issues.

A high quality school is one of the pillars of neighborhood revitalization in Reservoir Hill Improvement Council’s (RHIC) strategy. All new funds for public education are welcome. Still, the bottle tax poses a problematic question. Principally, the tax is a regressive tax that disproportionately impacts lower income families. However, it is a simple tax and the need is desperate for addressing the $2.8 billion dollar required for school renovations as documented by the American Civil Liberties Union’s Education Reform Project in their 2010 report, Buildings for Academic Excellence.

RHIC has been working closely with many member organizations in Baltimore Education Coalition and Transform Baltimore to develop innovative and viable funding solutions to create first-class school facilities for all city students, teachers, and neighborhoods. This has led to a three-part proposal for raising school construction and renovation funds:

1. Leverage annual construction funds for long-term borrowing

Borrow the funds needed to renovate buildings upfront and use existing streams of money to pay off this debt. This will require agreement by city and state officials to commit to maintaining current levels of annual school construction funding for Baltimore City over 25-30 years. Also, the funds must be given to the city school system “flexibly,” so that it can be used to leverage a large sum of school construction dollars now. Greenville, SC used this model to renovate and modernize all 70 of its school buildings in five years. The current levels of city and state annual funding for school construction (~$60 million) would allow the city school system to leverage $1 billion upfront now.

2. Increase Baltimore City's annual contribution to school construction

The City's share of VLT (slots) revenue, estimated to generate $15-17 million annually, could be used to borrow enough funds upfront to fully renovate 5-6 high schools or build 10-12 new elementary schools; the slots revenue would pay off the debt. A 5-cent bottle tax would generate an estimated $10 million annually, and could leverage ~$155 million to improve school facilities.

3. Increase state funding for city school construction

Connecticut covered 80% of the costs to rebuild every school in New Haven.

Maryland must contribute more to ensure that all children can learn in school buildings that meet standards for adequacy, in accordance with the State Constitution.

Point number two above (Increase Baltimore City's annual contribution to school construction) most directly pertains to the bottle tax question, because it requires us to seek out new sources of revenue at the local level.

Let us hear from you.

The Baltimore Education Coalition and Transform Baltimore are supporting the Mayor’s bottle tax proposal as a first step towards achieving high quality school buildings throughout the district.

Do you support an increase in the bottle tax if all the bottle tax revenues go toward school rehabilitation and repair?

If you would rather not pose your thoughts publicly, please them to Rick Gwynallen at rgwynallen@reservoirhill.net

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