A group of prominent D.C. clerics who said they represent about 130 ministers citywide, voiced disapproval yesterday of a proposed November voter initiative that would require refunds on glass bottles and other beverage containers that are returned to stores.
The ministers said they would fight to defeat the so-called bottle bill, Initiative 28, arguing that it would push up the price of beverages for city residents who can least afford it while doing little to alleviate litter problems in the District.
"I have been appalled at the insensitivity of those who are supporting this initiative," said the Rev. Ernest Gibson, executive director of The Council of Churches of Greater Washington. "There are families in this city who at least once a month have to make a choice between food and rent."
Initiative 28, scheduled to appear on the Nov. 3 ballot along with nonpartisan candidates for D.C. school board seats, would require refunds ranging from 5 cents to 20 cents on glass, plastic and metal beverage containers. Store owners typically charge the refund cost to consumers in the form of a deposit at purchase.
Gibson and the other ministers who spoke yesterday at Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest have aligned themselves with the Clean Capital City Committee, an industry-funded group, which had raised $1 million as of Sept. 16 to fight the initiative -- a record amount for a ballot question here -- compared to less than $50,000 raised by supporters of the measure.
Industry sponsors, who were involved in arranging yesterday's event, have mounted a highly polished campaign against the proposal in what is seen by some observers as a key test of national sentiment on the bottle issue.
Ministers told about 60 opponents of the initiative yesterday that the bill would hurt small businesses that have little space to store returned bottles.
There was also a suggestion that the ballot issue has raised questions of racial pride. Some of the speakers derided the proposal as coming from "outsiders" who, they said, are attempting to lure blacks into voting for the bill with promises of jobs collecting empty containers.
"White people always think black people can be bought for a nickel," said the Rev. Edward A. Hailes, president of the D.C. chapter of the NAACP. "We are not interested in those kinds of jobs. We are looking for jobs with upward mobility."
Jonathan Puth, a leader of the Bottle Bill Initiative Committee, which proposed the measure, said that the initiative would create "hundreds of new jobs," from handling collected bottles to administrative jobs in companies that he said would spring up to deal with the returns.
Puth said several D.C. clerics have pledged their support for the initiative.