Mayor W. W. Herenton of Memphis established a...

LAST MONTH

November 15, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LAST MONTH Mayor W. W. Herenton of Memphis established a committee to look into the legalities of adding Shelby County's suburbs to his city.

I have long believed that Baltimore City and Baltimore County ought to be one. The normal way to bring that about would be for the city to annex parts or all of the county. That's the way Baltimore City grew in the past, and that's the way the economically and socially healthiest cities of today grow.

I don't know the law in Tennessee, but here there's a problem. Article XIII, Sec. 1 of the Maryland Constitution says the General Assembly may authorize annexations, but the boundary lines of a county or Baltimore City may not be changed without the consent of a majority of voters residing within the district to be annexed.

So if we wanted to take Catonsville, Towson and Essex into the city, we'd have to have the permission of those residents. No way they'd vote to be annexed.

However, I think the city can accomplish the same thing, without their permission. I call it annexation-in-reverse.

The attorney general issued an advisory opinion on Article XIII, Sec. 1 in 1982. It makes clear that "in a proposed change of county boundary lines, the controlling referendum is to be held only [emphasis added] in the area of a county that is to be ceded to another county." Constitutionally, Baltimore City is a county.

Under the attorney general's opinion as I read it, if Baltimore City wants to be annexed to Baltimore County -- to be the annexee rather than the annexor -- the General Assembly would order a referendum only in the city. County voters would have nothing to say about it.

Why would the city desire this? Why not? Right off the bat our murder rate would be cut nearly in half. Our median income would rise by over 25 percent. Our property taxes would be cut by about that much.

Now, of course, people now residing in the county would see their murder rates and taxes go up and their median income go down. They obviously would oppose this change. So what? Read my lips:

They. Couldn't. Vote. On. It.

Now, even some city residents take a very narrow view of merger, annexation, annexation-in-reverse. Many black political leaders argue that a combined Baltimore City and County would, by reducing the percentage of the electorate that is black, lead to policies and programs that are harmful or at least not helpful to blacks in general.

But studies show that black as well as white residents of cities with suburbs inside the city limits are better off economically, etc., than are city residents of cities without.

I say let's do it. At the very least let's do what the attorney general's opinion suggested as a preliminary step: take a "straw ballot" in the city to see if in fact voters here have an urge to merge. Maybe some neighborhoods would and some wouldn't, and the General Assembly could respond accordingly.

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