Now that the General Assembly has killed the Linowes commission's tax recommendations for 1991, how do state lawmakers propose to help Baltimore City escape from its predicament -- a declining revenue base that cannot support the bulk of the state's poor, needy and elderly?
Letting the city flounder without assistance from Annapolis would be counter-productive. Delaying action would only deepen the problems and make them that much more intractable -- and costly -- to solve. The smartest thing state legislators could do would be to come up with a series of targeted-aid proposals for improved city services this session.
But so far, nothing of the sort has been done. The lone city-assistance measure likely to pass -- a state takeover of the City Jail -- will save Baltimore only about $1 million in the next year, though long-term benefits could be substantial. Where are the other targeted-aid plans?
The Schmoke administration has provided weak leadership in lining up General Assembly support for a bigger aid package. It gave token support to the Linowes tax proposal and now is pushing a surcharge on lottery tickets that stands no chance of winning favor. The mayor has failed to unite his own delegation behind a viable package.
Nor have city legislators distinguished themselves so far this session. Though Baltimore lawmakers hold a number of key leadership posts in the House of Delegates, the city was rudely treated in the budget passed by the House last week. City lawmakers opted to protect their positions within leadership rather than go to bat for Baltimore.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer, meanwhile, has been frustrated in efforts to assist the city. His Linowes tax-reform plan has been defeated and even some of his economic-development proposals for the city -- the Christopher Columbus Marine Center and the Convention Center expansion -- are running into trouble. The governor's personal disputes with legislators have reduced his ability to help the city.
That leaves it up to House and Senate leaders to recognize the urgency of the matter. Baltimore's schools cannot be allowed to sink still further while legislators "study" the situation this summer. Nor can the city's services continue to suffer while state lawmakers hesitate.
A sick and ailing Baltimore eventually will infect the rest of the state. Surrounding counties already are feeling some of the effects, such as the rise in suburban crime. A poorly educated generation of young adults will make it increasingly difficult for area companies to fill job slots and result in lower state income-tax receipts and higher welfare costs.
House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell and Senate President
Thomas V. Mike Miller still have time to hatch a relief package that will address many of the city's most pressing needs this session. They should put this at the top of their priority list.