Baltimore's Slim Prospects

January 08, 1991

It does not take a crystal ball to predict Baltimore faces rough times after the General Assembly opens its 90-day session in Annapolis tomorrow. After years of having been about the only pauper at a gathering of the relatively wealthy, the city now finds itself among deficit-riddled counties crying poverty. "It's going to be tough going, I realize that," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke acknowledges.

The message from Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been that Maryland's counties and municipalities will have to shoulder some of the load of the state's fiscal woes. That means less aid from Annapolis for local governments. While wealthier subdivisions may experience big numerical cuts in aid, any diminution in state subsidies is likely to have a grave impact on Baltimore City's precarious situation.

During the past four years, the city's legislative programs have rested on the assumption that it would be only a matter of time before the state took over certain burdensome functions, thus providing Baltimore with badly needed relief. But already, Governor Schaefer has said the state's budget crisis will not permit him to support state takeovers of the City Jail and city court system -- even though he championed those ideas while he was mayor. (A state takeover of the jail alone would save the city $39 million a year.)

The other avenue of the city's two-track legislative program also seems blocked, at least for now. That is the tax reforms proposed by the Linowes commission, which would add $800 million in new or expanded states taxes, much of it benefiting Baltimore. But these far-reaching recommendations are too controversial to win easy passage. It is no wonder, then, that Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of the city's Senate delegation, cries: "The bottom line is, we need money. It doesn't matter to me in what way, shape or form it comes to the city, we just need more money."

This is an appeal lawmakers will hear again and again during the next 90 days. They should be responsive to Baltimore's justified needs whenever they can, because any weakening in the condition of the state's largest population center will ultimately burden the whole state.

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