Suburbs still need the city

Dan Rodricks

December 02, 1991|By Dan Rodricks

Most politicians rarely make public statements without carefully choosing their words or qualifying them with some sort of blah-blah. That's why you have to appreciate what Tommy Bromwell had to say about legislative redistricting. Relatively speaking, he cut to the quick.

"I don't like it," said the Baltimore County senator about a plan to create some joint city-county legislative districts for the 1994 elections. "All we do is accommodate minorities these days at the cost of everyone else."

Beautiful. A Baltimore Countian lets loose his feelings about Baltimore City.

Though the subject of Bromwell's remark was a specific redistricting plan, the context was regional government -- that is, the idea of city and county politicians sharing power, sometimes representing districts that include chunks of both jurisdictions.

There's a big echo coming from Bromwell's remark. In just a few words, he managed to summarize a sadly typical suburban sentiment toward the city.

It's not just Bromwell who feels that "all we do is accommodate minorities" when, in fact, Baltimore has half the median income of its suburbs and twice the tax rate, twice the problems, most of the state's poor. Annapolis is full of mealy-mouthed pols who every year dance around Baltimore's needs. And they dance this jig because they know they can get away with it.

For one thing, suburban pols think their constituents see the city as a sink hole into which the state should not pour additional funds. The attitude: Taxes too high? Streets unsafe? Schools lousy? Just move out. (To poor city residents who can't afford to move out, that's the equivalent of George Bush telling hard-pressed, recession-scared consumers to "just spend money" this holiday season.)

The governor, who served as mayor of Baltimore during the city's renaissance, has squandered his tremendous mandate and blown his chance to make the city's needs a concern for the entire region. And in Washington, few leaders speak up for Baltimore or any city. The president doesn't know from cities.

So there's never a groundswell of support for additional aid to Baltimore. And it's too bad. People like Bromwell and his suburban pals miss a grand point when they resist working with and for the city because, despite its problems, Baltimore remains what the Greater Baltimore Committee calls an "economic engine," and there are numbers to back that up.

Certainly Baltimore isn't the big industrial port city it was at mid-century, and obviously thousands upon thousands of people have chosen to live their lives and raise their kids in the more affluent, better-serviced, less-taxed suburbs.

But where do Baltimore's suburban neighbors get the money to do that?

They earn it. They have jobs.

And where are the jobs?

According to a recent survey conducted for the GBC, about 40 percent of the jobs are in Baltimore. That is, the city provides more than 40 percent of the entire region's private sector jobs. (The GBC survey didn't even include government jobs.)

While job-growth in the suburbs has been substantial, some 200,000 people still commute into Baltimore from the five adjoining counties every day.

Hunt Valley is a dynamic spectacle of suburban development; it has become an economic citadel in Baltimore County. You look at it and say: Who needs Baltimore? But more than 142,000 people still drive from Baltimore County into the city for work every day.

And that figure, like all in the study, takes into account the offsetting numbers of workers who commute from city to suburb every day.

How many people commute from Anne Arundel County to jobs in the city? According to the GBC's report, about 29,000 of them do. Another 11,517 come from Harford County; 8,726 come from Howard; 5,479 come from Carroll.

These are good jobs paying high wages, too. About 57 percent are "managerial, professional." The study found that people who commute into Baltimore earn significantly more than people who work in their counties of residence. As a matter of fact, $4 billion in annual income commutes out of Baltimore, to be taxed some place else. To benefit some place else.

Half of all employed Baltimore County residents have private-sector jobs in the city. So pols like Tommy Bromwell shouldn't be kissing the city off. They should be kissing the city's hand, a hand that feeds a lot of voters.

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