GBC urging more aid for city State, regional help being given emphasis

January 23, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Declaring that the viability of Maryland is linked to the stability of the city, the Greater Baltimore Committee, in a report being released today, is calling for a massive infusion of state and regional aid to fuel a "second renaissance" in Baltimore.

The new aid would include $150 million to put the city's much maligned school system on equal financial footing with suburban school systems.

The GBC, the city's leading business group, also is recommending changes in the way the state distributes income tax revenues so that jurisdictions like Baltimore with declining tax bases do not lose more revenue.

The GBC also is urging that counties surrounding the city do more to shoulder Baltimore's crushing financial burden. It is a message that has been all but ignored in the past.

"To a large extent, it is the positive image projected by the 'Baltimore renaissance' that has attracted the economic development that fuels the suburban counties' growth," the report says. "Yet, with few exceptions, the counties have not contributed significantly toward the very services and attractions located in the city which have served as a catalyst for their growth."

The GBC "vision paper" says that the aid being recommended for Baltimore is anything but charity. Instead, it says the "interdependence" of the city, regional and state economies demands that Baltimore remain an attractive place to live and do business.

"At the same time that the counties desperately are seeking to limit population and business expansion, the city just as desperately seeks to add to its population and business base," the report says. "The counties should view a fiscally independent city as a key component to their own strategies for managing growth."

The report says that the city's property tax rate of $5.95 per $100 of assessed valuation should be reduced to at least $3.90 -- 150 percent of the regional average.

"Baltimore City's $5.95 property tax levy imposes unacceptable burdens on city taxpayers and should be reduced to rates more comparable to those of the region as a whole," the report says.

The report, "The GBC's Vision for a Healthy, Thriving Baltimore City -- The Vital Link in the Chain," lends the voice of a group representing more than 1,000 businesses to arguments made repeatedly in recent years by groups and individuals, including the Goldseker Foundation, Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the gubernatorial Linowes Commission.

The GBC says it plans to lobby the General Assembly in support of Linowes' recommendations of $800 million in new and expanded taxes, much of it to benefit Baltimore and Maryland's poorest counties.

The commission also recommends a new program of state grants that would enable the 24 major jurisdictions to reduce property taxes by $180 million. Part of that money would come from the 21-cent state property tax, which now is split with the subdivisions but all of which would be returned to them under the commission's plan. Baltimore would be able to knock 74 cents off its tax rate under the plan.

Many of Linowes' recommendations are considered unlikely to pass during the current General Assembly session because of opposition by legislative leaders who say voters ousted incumbents in the fall elections because of high taxes.

"No one wants to pay more taxes, especially in this time of economic and political uncertainty," said GBC chairman Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the Rouse Co. "But, we believe the failure to address some of the problems identified by the Linowes Commission poses a far greater threat to the state's future."

The GBC sees Linowes as a key part of the city's strategy to free itself from being "held a virtual fiscal hostage by the state from year to year."

The GBC says the General Assembly must devise some long-term solutions to the city's fiscal problems rather than the "short-term Band-Aids" most often offered.

In education, the GBC says that abysmal school achievement in the city should be fought with money and educational strategies that give individual schools decision-making powers.

It is a concept endorsed by Schmoke, who cited a dispute over "school-based management" in his recent decision to oust Superintendent Richard C. Hunter after his contract expires June 30.

The GBC warns that any commitment to help Baltimore must be matched by "dramatic changes in the delivery of essential services by the city."

Since Schmoke took office in 1987, the city has cut 1,500 positions from its payroll. Nonetheless, the city finds itself lurching from one budget crisis to another.

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