The city of Baltimore has been backed into an untenable corner by the property tax rebellions in the surrounding counties. With Baltimore County committed to a 4 percent cap on property assessment increases and sentiments for similar reductions in Howard, Anne Arundel, Harford and Carroll, there is a stronger economic incentive than ever for the middle-class to flee the city with its onerous $5.95 tax rate and assessment tax increases that could run as high as 10 percent a year.
With the city pressed for tax dollars it may seem ill-advised to cut the tax rate and cap assessments to be competitive with the counties. But without such measures, Baltimore risks losing more of its already-diminished middle-class population. As such, Mayor Schmoke's newly announced support of a 4 percent assessment cap in the city is a key part of a long-term strategy -- particularly if it is linked with even a perfunctory tax-rate cut -- though some council members are rightly cautious about embracing it.
A 4 percent cap could cost the city $2.5 million in revenue loss, and Schmoke was vague about just how the city could absorb such a blow. Still, he is correct to recognize that somehow it must. There are a number of new taxes and fees the city itself might pursue. But Baltimore's best hope lies in its delegation fighting hard in the next General Assembly session for relief -- the sentiment among many state lawmakers to help the city and the pending recommendations of the Linowes Commission report hold great potential.