Time for the city to show its stuff

Daniel J. Loden

January 13, 1993|By Daniel J. Loden

IT IS true that politics is the art of the possible. It is equally true that more is possible with a strong plan and the right bargaining chips. If ever our Baltimore City legislative delegation needed a unified, well-reasoned plan of action, it is in the session of the General Assembly opening today.

The first requirement for developing such a plan is a stronger faith in the importance of the contributions the city makes to the economic and cultural health of Maryland and the courage to express this faith forcibly and factually. In the past, many of city legislative representatives have been reluctant to energetically present the city's needs lest they anger their brethren from the wealthier Washington suburbs.

What is fair is not too much to ask. What is fair generates a strength of its own when it is backed by a reasonable, courageous and unified delegation.

The decline of Baltimore City must be stopped. The exodus of its black and white middle-class citizens must be reversed. Unless this is accomplished, a bankrupt city whose population will be composed mostly of the poor, the socially deprived and the homeless will ultimately cost Maryland -- and Maryland taxpayers -- untold millions.

The property tax burden on Baltimore City homeowners, over twice that of any other municipality, is patently unfair. Baltimore City once was called the "city of homeowners." Now far less than 50 percent of city residents pay the egregious property tax. As home ownership has declined, a loss of over 170,000 residents in 10 years is a hemorrhage.

Education reform, including equitable state funding, is essential not only to provide the labor force needed by the state, but for the many social benefits that a better educated citizenry produces. Maryland's total tax structure needs reform. The piggyback tax should be reformed or dropped.

Our state delegates should defend the city's efforts to downsize and operate efficiently and urge more effective state action. Baltimore is doing at least as well and probably better than the state in attempting to be more efficient.

Let's concede that the mills of the gods and of state legislatures grind very slowly. But other states have proven that long-term efficiencies can be obtained by restructuring, stronger cost controls, privatization and other means. The state has no stones to throw at the city in this regard. So what could be the reasonable objectives of a unified state legislative delegation?

* Enabling legislation so that the city can provide property tax incentives to encourage homeowners to return.

* Similar legislation to ease the burden on current homeowners who buy and renovate their homes.

* At least a partial leveling of the playing field in the funding of education, particularly aid to those programs that help inner-city youngsters.

* Support for the expansion of the Baltimore City Convention Center.

* Tax reform. We need to consider reforming or eliminating the piggyback tax and raising funds on the basis of where they are needed most.

Daniel J. Loden is president of the Baltimore City Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes.

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