Baltimore's first-ever energy tax proposed for city's nonprofit organizations

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Wed May 9 01:01:53 EDT 2001

Baltimore's first-ever energy tax proposed for city's nonprofit organizations

By Neal Thompson and John Rivera
The Baltimore SUN

Baltimore's religious leaders have forged a united front in opposing
the first-ever energy tax proposed for the city's nonprofit
organizations, and many plan to express their outrage tomorrow at City

"We simply plan to tell the council, 'If you vote in favor of this
proposal, we consider it the first step toward ending your political
future,'" said the Rev. Gregory B. Perkins, president of the
Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of 200 predominantly
black clergy.

He is organizing a 4 p.m. news conference outside City Hall. Afterward,
the group plans to fill the City Council chambers to condemn the
proposed 8 percent energy tax on Baltimore's nonprofit groups.

"The fact of the matter is, we feed the hungry, we clothe the naked, we
try to keep people from being evicted, and we do it with a voluntary
work force and on a shoestring budget. We serve the poorest of the
poor," Perkins said. "To tax us is no solution for the city of
Baltimore." Mayor Martin O'Malley could not be reached to comment.

Other church leaders lined up to support the Alliance. On Friday, every
United Methodist minister in the city received an e-mail from the
regional office urging them to attend the news conference denouncing
the tax proposal.

"We know that our clergy in Baltimore are very concerned about it. They
feel that it would be debilitating to their ministries," said the Rev.
Dean Snyder, communications director for the Methodists' Baltimore-
Washington Annual Conference.

The proposal, which was introduced as a bill before the City Council
last week, would expand the city's existing tax on energy consumption -
which only affects commercial businesses - to include nonprofit
organizations such as churches, schools and hospitals. It would raise a
projected $4.6 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System
immediately opposed the plan, which could cost them millions, as did
the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations. The city churches
took longer to react to the plan, but by last week, they had marshaled
their opposition.

At the annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland at the
Hunt Valley Inn, delegates signed petitions opposing the tax. O'Malley
was informed last week that the Standing Committee of the diocese voted
to oppose it and council members will be contacted about that
opposition tomorrow, said John L. Rabb, bishop suffragan.

"We're sensitive to the fact there's a revenue shortfall in the city of
Baltimore," he said. "But it should have been thought out more
carefully than saying, 'Let's go after the nonprofits.'"

Religious leaders expressed concern that the energy tax represents the
first step at what could be a chipping away of their institutions' tax-
exempt status.

"I think it sets a very bad precedent," said Bishop Henry Gerard Knoche
of the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in

"I think nonprofits, particularly churches, have been exempt from taxes
because we provide so many services to the city for free. ... It's
breaking a long tradition in this country."

Religious leaders are also concerned that the tax will push the
resources of many urban parishes to the limit, particularly in light of
escalating energy costs. The pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in the
Inner Harbor told Knoche the proposed tax would cost his church $10,000
a year.

"If there is one institution which has consistently remained within the
city boundaries and worked unceasingly to meet spiritual and physical
needs of city residents, it has been the churches, synagogues and
mosques," wrote the Rev. Iris Farabee-Lewis, a Methodist minister who
is president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, in a letter to
O'Malley late last week.

"Instituting a tax on these houses of worship may discourage or even
close some of those institutions or programs. If that occurs, there
will be no lights left to turn out when the last person leaves."
Raymond P. Kempisty, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of
Baltimore, said an energy tax could threaten the viability of some of
its 54 parishes and 42 schools in the city.

Cardinal William H. Keeler, Roman Catholic archbishop of Baltimore, met
with O'Malley for about an hour Friday to express his opposition to the
tax. They parted without reaching an agreement.

"The mayor said he understood there are many parishes and schools
within the city that would be hurt by the proposed energy tax,"
Kempisty said. "The cardinal says he just doesn't see eye to eye with
the mayor on this issue." Others argue that the tax would divert
resources that help Baltimore residents.

"The real issue here is do you get extra revenue from those who are
already doing so much in the community?" said Arthur Abramson,
executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, who is coordinating
the Jewish community's response. "There's not a synagogue or church
that's not doing something to help its congregation and others in the
community. By making them pay an energy tax, you're perhaps reducing
the amount of money to help those who need help."

City Council President Sheila Dixon, who supports the mayor's plan,
said she has received letters and calls from some church members and
leaders. But when she speaks with community groups, she said, she has
heard support for making nonprofit groups pay something for the city
services they use, such as police and fire protection and trash pickup.

"We should have done it years ago," she said. She said it's not likely
the council would exempt churches while taxing all other nonprofits.

"It's got to be all or nothing," she said.


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