Baltimore Sun

Charter amendments represent a bold approach

- — Michael Kroopnick, Brooklyn, New York

I am a native Marylander, having grown up in Baltimore County, and spending over a decade as an adult living in Baltimore

City. As the home to world-class educationa­l, medical and financial institutio­ns, an attractive waterfront, well-establishe­d park system, and historic neighborho­ods and architectu­re, the city has assets that are a model for other cities. At the same time, the city has been hindered by levels of violent crime, addiction and concentrat­ions of poverty that are disproport­ionate to the size of its population. As a result, the city has continued to lose residents for over half a century despite its assets.

While the city could not prevent the appetite for suburban living among middle-class households, it has exacerbate­d the problem by failing to leverage its assets and entice more households to stay or move to the city. This failure, at least in part, is due to the city having neither a competitiv­e tax structure nor modern infrastruc­ture (i.e., a functional public transporta­tion system). These problems are structural: Without incentives to promote a greater degree of wealth among its residents, relative to the suburbs, the city is unwelcomin­g and poorly integrated within the larger metropolit­an region. This posture has rendered its problems more intractabl­e and the city unable to reach its potential.

Across administra­tions, the city has suffered from weak leadership that has failed to recognize these problems. It is clear that the city will not, on its own, address the root of these problems. Given this inertia, I came to believe that outside pressure on the city in the form of a coalition was needed to force it to address its structural failings. Thus, I was very excited to learn that others had reached a similar conclusion and come together to organize “Renew Baltimore” in order to enact a significan­t reduction in the city’s property tax rate by proposing amendments to the City Charter. If these amendments are enacted, it will probably constitute the best news for the city that I can remember since I first became vested in the city’s future following my graduation from college in the early 2000s.

I agree with the coalition’s framing of Baltimore’s property tax system as inequitabl­e: it harms low-income homeowners and homeowners on fixed incomes, many of whom are persons of color or elderly or both; discourage­s investment; encourages suburban flight; inhibits appreciati­on in property values and diverts a greater share of income to paying property taxes rather than to building equity in that property. By contrast, a significan­t reduction in property taxes will provide households with reason to invest in Baltimore City and will build more wealth throughout the city. Meanwhile, city government will benefit from a growing or stable population and more balanced approach to generating revenue.

That being said, the one piece missing from this proposal (which requires state authorizat­ion) is a way to enable the city to raise revenue from the thousands of individual­s who work in and play in, but do not live in, Baltimore City, for example through a local option sales tax. Under the existing framework, residents of Baltimore City shoulder an uneven share of the cost of running city government in relation to the population that benefits from city services. The city should therefore be able to explore alternativ­e sources of revenue that do not burden residents or discourage population growth in order to offset any losses from a significan­t reduction in property taxes.

Notwithsta­nding the likely need for some offsets, the charter amendments represent a bold approach to making serious reform to Baltimore City government. I applaud the formation of Renew Baltimore and its goals.

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