We march against a policy of abandonment and neglect

Parren J. Mitchell & Katherine Corr

October 11, 1991|By Parren J. Mitchell & Katherine Corr

LAST MONDAY night, a thousand Baltimoreans crowded downtown Baltimore's War Memorial building to protest the multimillion-dollar budget cuts announced by Governor Schaefer. Witness after witness testified that programs being cut are those that rescue people from death, illness and despair. Their protest has been followed by daily and nightly demonstrations in Annapolis.

But these state-level cuts are only the latest insults to a city that has undergone more than a decade of cuts in financial aid from the federal government. A Bush administration spokesman refers to this policy of abandonment as the "new paradigm." It is a coldly calculated policy. Indeed, part of Maryland's present financial crisis stems from the fact that the federal government has for so long dumped its social responsibilities on the state.

In 1980, Baltimore received roughly $200 million in direct federal grants for education, job training, health care, community development and housing. What Baltimore receives today is worth only $61 million in 1980 dollars. The gap has been bridged by the state, by increased local taxes, by budget cuts, layoffs and increased misery.

Tomorrow, the city will begin to fight back by staging a protest march on Washington. Although the Save Our Cities march was conceived and organized by a coalition of more than 100 community, religious and labor organizations, it has been unanimously endorsed by the City Council and strongly supported by Mayor Schmoke. It is truly Baltimore's march on Washington. So far as we know, no American city has ever before engaged in such an act of protest. But these are desperate times.

There are alternatives to a policy of abandonment and neglect. On both the state and federal level, justice cries out for a new, progressive tax structure. The very rich -- the top 1 percent on America's economic ladder -- saw their income more than double during the Reagan decade, while their share of federal income taxes plunged. Meanwhile in Maryland, middle-income people are shouldering the largest burden of taxes. Let us return to the sort of progressive income tax structure that this country had in the mid-'70s. According to the Washington-based Citizens for Tax Justice, such a shift could bring in more than $70 billion in urgently needed revenues, while reducing the tax burden for nine out of 10 households.

The federal government can also trim the military budget. We do not advocate the kind of sudden cuts discussed by the Bush administration -- cuts that seem designed to cause as much unemployment as possible, to poison public sentiment against a true peace economy. Instead, let us recognize that the Cold War is over and begin to convert war industries into peace industries that will provide more jobs.

Some people would simply let the cities rot and be done with it. But to abandon the cities is to abandon the country. The misery concentrated in the cities does not halt at the artificial city line. And what will happen to the suburban economies that depend on the city? More than half the jobs in Baltimore city are held by people who live outside its borders.

When we go to Washington tomorrow, we do not go to beg but to ask for justice, for what is rightfully ours as urban Americans. We and thousands of Baltimoreans are marching as an act of civic pride and solidarity. We will be joined by supporting delegations from Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Next April we will march again with many other cities, when the U.S. Conference of Mayors follows in Baltimore's footsteps.

We urge all who read this to join the Save Our Cities demonstration at 11 a.m. tomorrow on the west side of the Capitol. It's time to end the era of indifference.

Parren J. Mitchell is the retired congressman from Maryland's 7th District. Katherine Corr is director of Baltimore Jobs with Peace.

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