Baltimore needs aid, initiatives, GBC study says Business group touts proposals of Linowes panel, among others

January 23, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- "Radical" new aid efforts, free of parochialism and stepping beyond the usual patchwork remedies, are needed to save Baltimore from a slide into irretrievable dependency, the Greater Baltimore Committee says in a report to be issued today.

As an immediate effort in support of a comprehensive solution, the 1,000-member group became the first and most prestigious business organization to endorse the Linowes commission's $800 million package of tax-restructuring recommendations.

But the GBC's own "Vision for a Healthy, Thriving Baltimore City" calls for initiatives that go beyond the recommendations of the Linowes study. It also calls for new standards of accountability to be met by a city that renews its commitment to solving its problems.

And it urges the wealthier regions of Maryland to recognize the city's contributions to their prosperity, to the state's cultural richness and to its economic system. It recommends a study of ways for the counties to share revenue with the city while paying their share of mutually beneficial city amenities and services.

In perhaps its most politically explosive recommendation, the GBC suggests that the so-called piggyback income tax must be redistributed in a different way. That levy, amounting to as much as 50 percent of the state income tax, is jealously guarded as a local tax by most counties.

Currently, the piggyback tax is returned to each jurisdiction in proportion to the amounts paid by its citizens. The GBC proposal would cap distribution of the local share of the tax at the 1991 level. Growth in the tax beyond 1991 would be redistributed on a per capita basis. That proposal would have the effect of shifting tax revenue from wealthier to poorer jurisdictions -- benefiting the have-nots at the expense of the haves.

Now battling for the serious attention of legislators and tax-weary Marylanders, the Linowes commission's recommendations have not yet been turned into legislative proposals by the Schaefer administration, which is waiting to see the shape and magnitude of public reaction to the recommendations.

The GBC, one of the organizations to urge formation of the Linowes commission three years ago, left no doubt as to its enthusiasm.

"To do nothing -- or to do too little -- inevitably sentences the city to further decline, a downward spiral which will grow ever more difficult to remedy," it warns.

Though the Linowes panel has recommended a number of new taxes not usually embraced by business groups -- including a half-percent increase in the corporate tax -- the GBC says Baltimore's vaunted "renaissance," the future of its citizens and the future of the entire state depend on making the city economically self-sufficient and "a fully contributing partner in theregional economy."

The GBC suggests that as much as $150 million is needed to make Baltimore's educational system competitive with those in other jurisdictions.

The GBC's recommendations were well-received yesterday by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, according to his press secretary, Paul E. Schurick. Governor Schaefer believes that the GBC effort shows that business sees the importance of the Linowes package, Mr. Schurick said.

Mark K. Joseph, a member of the GBC's board of directors and a former president of the city school board, says the "vision" statement shows that the Baltimore region's business people are "willing to put our hearts, our minds and our money behind the most difficult issues facing the region and the state.

"The fear that I have is that people will interpret this simply as astatement that the business community is for higher taxes. What we're saying is that we're for the goals and results that Linowes wants. We're willing to do what's necessary to arrive at those goals and results."

Mr. Joseph said he has no doubt their proposals face deep skepticism and sharp scrutiny in the General Assembly.

House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent, reflected that skepticism, saying that the voters will require the General Assembly to do a number of things before raising taxes for any purpose.

"What they said in the election is [to] downsize government and build in accountability," he said. Voters, he said, "don't want government to have another blank check with nothing more than a 'trust me.' "

On the matter of accountability, the GBC said it believed the city school system must begin to succeed -- or cede control of its schools to the state.

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