Baltimore Sun

Sun editorial board errs in opposing property tax plan

- — Andre M. Davis, Carl Stokes, Anirban Basu, Gregory Tucker, Stephen J.K. Walters and Matt Wyskiel, Baltimore The writers are members of the Renew Baltimore coalition.

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.

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