Beverage industry group fights higher taxes

BALTIMORE: The American Beverage Association has joined a campaign against a regional tax that it says could have national implications on its industry.

BALTIMORE: The American Beverage Association has joined a campaign against a regional tax that it says could have national implications on its industry.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has proposed expanding the city's beverage tax from 2 cents to 5 cents per container and making the tax permanent. The current tax was enacted in 2010 and is scheduled to end in 2013.

If the tax increase is approved, the price of a 12 pack of soda would jump 60 cents, and a case of bottled water would increase by $1.20, the organization said.

“The outcome of this is something that could impact the industry beyond just this city,” said Chris Gindlesperger, director of public affairs at the organization. “Other municipalities are looking at what happens with this.”

The industry group and its Maryland-Delaware-DC chapter have joined “Stop the Baltimore City Beverage Tax,” a coalition of consumers, businesses, and community organizations, to spread the word about the tax's potential impact.

Public affairs firm Goddard Gunster, which has helped the American Beverage Association battle similar taxes in other states, is helping the organization with the effort, Gindlesperger said. In addition to assisting with the effort's messaging, it is also recruiting new coalition members.

The organization is also conducting reporter outreach prior to Baltimore city council meetings on the tax, at which group members will give their side of the issue. It has also held press conferences.

In addition, the coalition has used social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and it has funded radio and TV ads featuring Baltimore consumers and grocery store owners. The group also launched a microsite for the effort.

Most campaign messaging is highlighting the group's claim that the tax will disproportionately affect middle- and lower-class consumers and affect jobs if manufacturers flee the city.

“When you have so much at stake and the impact is so great, it becomes important to make sure you communicate and tell the story to people most affected,” said Ellen Valentino, EVP of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Beverage Association.

She added that the coalition has also stressed consumers will likely go to surrounding counties to buy their food if such a tax is implemented. Valentino explained that the tax brought in about $4.8 million in fiscal year 2011 and should account for about the same amount in fiscal year 2012, $1 million less than what the city hoped it would see.

“Five cents is going to have a tremendous impact,” Valentino said.

A representative from Rawlings-Blake's office did not return a request for comment.

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