Save the city

October 04, 1991

Throughout the era of Reaganomics, cities have been the ultimate victims of the trickle-down theory. As money from the federal government dried up, they lost block grants, model cities programs, money for housing and social services -- a slew of aid that constituted the very fabric of the safety net. The number of poor increased, and the middle class moved to the suburbs.

With Maryland now trying to patch a $450 million fiscal hole, Baltimore city, already battered by the economics of the '80s and the recession of the '90s, is gravely threatened. Roughly half of the state's AFDC recipients, all of whom are facing cuts in monthly allotments, live here. And three-quarters of the indigent people living on General Public Assistance, slated for elimination Nov. 1, live here as well. The Maryland Alliance for the Poor estimates that if only 10 percent of GPA recipients end up in mental hospitals or prisons, the cost to taxpayers would be three times the amount saved by cutting their aid. Economics aside, however, the reality is that the majority of those hit by cuts in these programs next month will be wandering the streets of Baltimore city, which has no resources to help them.

That, however, merely hints at the impact of the governor's spending cuts. Reductions in funds for prison education and recreation programs, predicted to wrack jails with discontent and possibly riots, will hit Baltimore, home of the City Jail, disproportionately. More than that, Mayor Schmoke noted Tuesday that the $21 million the city will lose as a result of Schaefer's cuts in aid to local governments, will translate into 700-800 layoffs, 1,200 children dropped from city pre-kindergarten programs, shutting down libraries and rec centers and slashing $3 million from fire and police services -- cutting beyond the fat, literally into the muscle of city services. Worse, the city, unlike the surrounding counties, has virtually no way to make up the lost state revenue. With the property tax rate at $5.90, an increase not only would push many working-class residents over the line but would also drive out middle-class hangers-on.

It took courage for Schmoke to urge the General Assembly to increase taxes to save the city. Advocating more taxes is, after all, every politician's nightmare. Clearly, though, there is now no other choice. Still it is a pity the mayor of Baltimore has to take the heat for something the legislature has been too cowardly to do.

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