Is An­napo­lis ready to pro­vide Bal­ti­more the help it needs?

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

On Thurs­day, for­mer Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. “Mike” Miller rose from the floor to give a “Rome is burn­ing” speech in which he ac­knowl­edged Bal­ti­more is “cry­ing out for help” and that law­mak­ers ought to make the city the fo­cus of their at­ten­tion. This was sur­pris­ing on at least two lev­els. First, it’s never been clear that the South­ern Mary­land law­maker has ever been es­pe­cially at­tuned to Bal­ti­more dur­ing his his­toric 33 years lead­ing the cham­ber, while his suc­ces­sor, Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son, ac­tu­ally rep­re­sents the city. The sec­ond is that, well, it’s about time.

What­ever con­fla­gra­tion Bal­ti­more faces now, it’s been raging for years. Mur­ders, low-per­form­ing schools, loss of jobs and pri­vate in­vest­ment, racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, con­cen­trated poverty, po­lice bru­tal­ity, po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion, drug ad­dic­tion and over­dose deaths, th­ese are not new cords of fire­wood heaped on the flames. Even the Freddie Gray un­rest was nearly five years ago.

Still, bet­ter late than never.

If Sen­a­tor Miller is se­ri­ous about ad­dress­ing Bal­ti­more’s needs — along with the law­mak­ers who gave his speech bi­par­ti­san ap­plause — there are any num­ber of things the Gen­eral As­sem­bly and Gov. Larry Ho­gan could do to help.

Step one would be to lis­ten to Bal­ti­more’s elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives and ci­ti­zens. Cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als in the State House de­light in dis­re­spect­ing city res­i­dents. This may play well with con­ser­va­tive white GOP vot­ers, but it’s poi­sonous to any ef­fort to find com­mon ground. No­body in An­napo­lis has clean hands when it comes to Bal­ti­more’s prob­lems in­clud­ing the cur­rent gov­er­nor.

Next, stop hurt­ing Bal­ti­more. That means re­solv­ing the State Cen­ter law­suit that has de­prived the city of $1.5 bil­lion in in­vest­ment. How many thou­sands of jobs have been lost by this stand­off that dates to the Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. ad­min­is­tra­tion? Stop starv­ing the city of state trans­porta­tion aid that’s been di­verted to the Wash­ing­ton area (In­ter­state 270 and the Amer­i­can Le­gion Bridge rep­re­sent­ing just the lat­est ex­am­ples). Halt­ing the $2.9 bil­lion Red Line was bad enough, but has any­one no­ticed how dys­func­tional city tran­sit re­mains? It may be time to take the Mass Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion out of state con­trol and set it up as a re­gional tran­sit author­ity with its own fund­ing stream. The city needs jobs, but it also needs to of­fer the means for peo­ple to get to them.

Pass a Kir­wan ed­u­ca­tion re­form man­date. Break­ing the cy­cle of poverty means pre­par­ing the next gen­er­a­tion for a more pro­duc­tive fu­ture. And while they are at it, law­mak­ers will need to help Bal­ti­more pay its share of that school fund­ing, too. It’s just not re­al­is­tic to think city tax­pay­ers can come up with hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars more as the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion ed­u­ca­tion aid for­mula cur­rently con­tem­plates. Law­mak­ers who ob­ject to pro­vid­ing greater aid to the city need to be re­minded of what decades of se­gre­ga­tion and other forms of dis­crim­i­na­tory be­hav­ior have wrought. The bill for this enor­mous malfea­sance has sim­ply come due.

Be smarter about law en­force­ment. It isn’t just that Bal­ti­more needs more po­lice on the street, the state needs to put more pa­role and pro­ba­tion agents out there, too. One-third of vic­tims and sus­pects in city shoot­ings are un­der state su­per­vi­sion. Get it? If those in­di­vid­u­als are bet­ter mon­i­tored by pa­role and pro­ba­tion (if caseloads weren’t so enor­mous), they are less likely to get into trou­ble. Ex­perts think it might lower the homi­cide rate in a mat­ter of months, if not weeks. Po­lice in­ves­ti­gate crime, but pa­role agents might ac­tu­ally be bet­ter po­si­tioned to pre­vent it.

Fi­nally, pro­vide help with the rel­a­tively small things, too. The city’s prob­lems aren’t just about crime, which is as much a symp­tom as a cause of its broader prob­lems. The state could fully fund BMore for Healthy Ba­bies (the city’s ef­fort to re­duce in­fant mor­tal­ity), re­move the city’s cap on his­toric tax cred­its to en­cour­age more re­de­vel­op­ment of older build­ings, and in­crease aid to the Bal­ti­more Sym­phony Or­ches­tra to help keep it in busi­ness. And that’s just scratch­ing the sur­face of what the folks in the State House might be able to do for their “Rome,” just 30 miles north.

Of course, it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble Mr. Miller’s ges­ture was just meant to rouse his fel­low Democrats to sup­port Kir­wan ed­u­ca­tion re­forms or pla­cate sub­ur­ban coun­ties wor­ried that city crime is leak­ing into their ju­ris­dic­tions. Frankly, we don’t care about the pol­i­tics of the mo­ment, we’d just like to see a lit­tle more fire­fight­ing out of those 90-day war­riors who ad­mit they see some of the chal­lenges fac­ing this city. Are they ready to do some­thing se­ri­ous or just ob­serve the smoke? They’ve got un­til April 6.

JOSHUA MCKERROW/BAL­TI­MORE SUN ME­DIA

State Sen. Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, step­ping down as Se­nate pres­i­dent, talks with new Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Fer­gu­son be­fore the open­ing of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly in An­napo­lis.

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