Baltimore Sun

Tax cut petition short on signatures

Other groups submit bids for creation of Baltimore Regional Transporta­tion Authority, two-term limit for city’s mayor

- By Emily Opilo

A controvers­ial ballot question that would have reduced and capped Baltimore’s property tax rate will not make it onto Baltimore ballots this fall after organizers failed to submit the required signatures Monday.

At least 10,000 signatures from registered city voters were required to give voters the chance to consider the sweeping measure that organizers have said would improve equity and Mayor Brandon Scott’s administra­tion deemed “absurd.”

Officials behind the petition calling themselves Renew Baltimore collected more than 9,000 signatures, but not enough to clear that hurdle, according to a news release from the group Monday.

That sidelines a dramatic proposal to cut the city’s tax rate from 2.248% to 1.25% over six years and then install a permanent cap.

Billed as a grassroots effort, the coalition of economists and former city officials behind the petition argued reducing the tax rate would create “greater economic equity” and increase city revenue by attracting more homeowners and developers to the city.

Opponents balked at the use of the word “equity,” saying the biggest winners would be wealthy, predominan­tly white homeowners and out-of-town investors gentrifyin­g neighborho­ods.

Scott’s spokesman, James Bentley, said it would have forced a drastic cut in services that would harm, not help, the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Over the past month, paid petitioner­s canvassed the city on behalf of the group, which is chaired by Stephen Walters, a Loyola University economics professor and chief economist at the conservati­ve-leaning Maryland Public Policy Institute. Economist Anirban Basu, CEO of the Sage Policy Group and an economic adviser to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, is the group’s treasurer.

Several former city officials threw their support behind the measure. Former U.S. District Court judge and former city solicitor Andre Davis is a member of the coalition, as are former Democratic City Councilmem­bers Rikki Spector and Carl Stokes.

Stokes said Monday that the near miss in collecting the required signatures should be viewed as a “tax revolt” among city residents. Baltimore has more than 600,000 residents.

“With many more petitions expected to arrive after the deadline, we call on our elected leaders to finally take action to reduce Baltimore’s exorbitant property tax rate — more than double every other jurisdicti­on in Maryland,” Stokes said in the group’s news release. “We want to assure Baltimore City voters that we’ll continue to pursue our initiative with every confidence that we’ll prevail in two years’ time if our elected officials fail to act in the meantime.”

Organized as a political committee, Renew Baltimore’s funders must be publicly disclosed. As of the group’s last filing, Matthew Wyskiel, a wealth manager who contribute­d $10,100, was its only donor. Wyskiel said he is a lifelong Baltimorea­n who grew up in Roland Park and now lives on the border of Roland Park and Guilford.

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