Dapper, white-haired James J. Doyle Jr., the highest-paid lobbyist in Annapolis, has emerged as the point man in a concerted effort by Maryland's business and labor community to kill a measure that would require deposits of 5 or 10 cents on every soft drink and beer bottle and can sold in the state.
The bottle bill, which proponents claim would promote recycling, save energy and help clean up the environment, could cost the industry millions of dollars in profits. Their lobbying effort to kill the measure has taken on a frenzy unmatched in the State House this session.
The list of bottle bill opponents reads like a who's who of the most powerful special interest groups in the state: Bethlehem Steel, the AFL-CIO, soft-drink bottlers, beer whole-salers, retail grocers, the steelworkers union and the national Glass Packaging Institute.
All of these groups, with veteran lobbyist Doyle leading the way, have zeroed in on the House Environmental Matters Committee, where the measure will soon meet its first test. It is uncertain at this point which way the committee will vote, but there is no doubt that every member of the panel has been lobbied intensely by both sides.
Labor and industry's opposition has taken many forms, but its widespread intensity may best be illustrated in the fact that Del. Joan Pitkin (D-Prince George's), one of the bottle bill's sponsors, can no longer comfortably walk into a liquor store in Bowie.
"I can't even buy a bottle of wine in my own district," Pitkin said today. "So I went to another liquor store and when I handed them my check and they saw my name, they said 'We know who YOU are,' and didn't look too happy when they said it."
But the opponents' most sophisticated weapon is an alternative proposal -- one Doyle helped author months before the session began -- that would place a small tax on every industry and business, such as steel manufacturers and beer distributors, that contribute to the state's litter problem. The money collected, approximately $2 million annually according to the bill's backers, would be used to fund a massive clean-up campaign and to create recycling centers.
"For 10 to 12 years we managed to beat this [bottle] bill back without offering any alternative," Doyle said as he stood outside a legislative hearing room this week."I always took the position that we're winning easily, we don't need an alternative."
But Doyle said that during a 1976 campaign in Howard County to beat back a mandatory deposit ordinance, industry representatives promised that if the measure were defeated they would get a statewide litter tax introduced in the General Assembly.
"They told me promises were made," Doyle said of his employer, the Glass Packaging Institute, which represents bottle makers nationally. "And I'm in favor of keeping promises," he added, explaining how the litter tax bill come to be drafted.
William Cahill, another lawyer-lobbist who represents the Maryland soft drink bottlers, had a further explanation for the sudden intensity of industry lobbying on the litter bill, which he helped Doyle draft.
Cahill noted that this year, the prime sponsor of the bottle bill, Del. Gerald K. Winegrad (D-Anne Arundel) was able to get seven members of the 22-member Environmental Matters Committee with him as sponsors on the bill. "All they'd have to do is get five others to get it out of committee favorably," Cahill noted. Approval by that powerful committee would be a big boost to eventual passage by the House of Delegates, while a vote against the bill in committee would virtually kill it.
"It's about as emotionally lobbied as abortion," said Del. Torrey C. Brown (D-Baltimore), the committee's chairman. "And each side is violent in its stance," he said of the industry-business coalition on one side and the environmental and citizen groups on the other.
It was to a longtime committee member, Del. Hugh Burgess (D-Howard County), that Doyle took the litter tax proposal that he and Cahill had worked up under the auspices of an industry-business coalition.
Burgess said this week that he agreed to sponsor the bill because he thought it was a broader-based solution to the litter problem than the bottle bill."In one breath the bottle bill talks about dealing with litter, but the only thing it effects is bottles and cans," said Burgess. These, he said, represent only a small part of the litter problem.
Burgess, to the puzzlement of some of the bottle bill's backers, has been named to chair a small subcommittee to work on amendments to the bottle bill, on which the committee will vote next week.
"It is odd, just another piece in a difficult puzzle," said one of the bottle bill's sponsors, Del. Thomas A. Mooney (D-Prince George's).
And while the committee members continue to ponder the meaning of each new maneuver in the war, the letters keep pouring in at the rate of 10 a day. One Baltimore delegate has continued to find himself knee-deep in angry steelworkers and businessmen each time he enters his office, and Pitkin says her phone keeps ringing with lunch invitations, meeting requests and offers to meet her "anyplace, anytime just as long as I'll let them talk to me about the bill."