Sun editorial board errs in opposing property tax plan
The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board’s opposition to Renew Baltimore’s initiative to cut the city’s property tax rate by 44% over the next six years, while predictable, is disappointing and misguided (“Cutting Baltimore’s property tax rate: The devil is in the details,” July 12).
It’s disappointing because it is essentially a defense of a status quo that is clearly failing Baltimoreans. Many of the city’s problems trace to its unhealthy economy — to the poverty that contributes to so many social ills and to the lack of economic opportunity that keeps many of its citizens from flourishing. This economic malaise owes much to the city’s non-competitive property tax rate and its long-running disinvestment crisis and population flight.
It’s no longer acceptable to admit that “Baltimore’s high property tax rate — roughly twice that of surrounding jurisdictions — does the city enormous harm” while at the same time actively resisting a practical and proven treatment of the problem. All of the editorial’s favored treatments double down on failure.
The idea that promising a 25-year program of tiny annual tax reductions will reverse flight and disinvestment is simply ridiculous. Investors are justifiably suspicious of shifting political winds; the flood of new investment the city desperately needs will not occur without a credible commitment to a competitive rate — delivered before it’s too late. Saying essentially “we’re not competitive now, but we hope to be in a quarter century, trust us” will do nothing to reverse the city’s tragic decline.
It’s also misguided to raise the specter of budget turmoil as a reason to resist Renew Baltimore’s gradual, stepwise progression to a competitive tax environment. This ignores the clear and present danger of the status quo. The 2020 census showed the city lost 6% of its residents over the previous decade; the latest tally shows we lost another 9,210 by July of last year. Taxpayer flight continues while many of the city’s costs for public works, pensions and much more are fixed. Refusing to treat the city’s non-competitive tax rate and continuing to shrink its tax base is what stresses budgets, not the reverse.
Finally, it’s sad that the editors seem to have little confidence in Baltimore’s ability to attract new investment and taxpayers once it corrects this decades-old problem. We believe strongly in the city’s ability to thrive and we’re working hard to remove a key impediment to its prosperity and growth. We encourage all Baltimoreans to join in the effort.