Baltimore: The squeeze worsens

August 15, 1994

The hiring freeze ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke underscores Baltimore City's long-term fiscal predicament. Things are not going well.

Even as the rest of Maryland slowly emerges from recession, the city continues to take more hits. Because residential and commercial real estate values have plummeted, assessments -- and property tax revenues -- are going down.

Meanwhile, the city continues to lose jobs it desperately needs, both in manufacturing plants and offices. This, in turn, diminishes tax income.

The effect of all these trends is that the municipal government expects its revenues to grow a paltry 1 percent in the next year. Since budgets usually grow by more than that, the city is essentially operating in the red. By freezing any new hiring, except for police and teachers, the Schmoke administration hopes to save enough to avoid layoffs in the 26,500-member city work force.

But the mayor said any long-term solution to the city's fiscal problems must involve "important assistance" from Annapolis and Washington, such as a state takeover of the Circuit Court system. In other words, he sees Baltimore increasingly becoming a public ward living on handouts.

If this is the only vision guiding Mr. Schmoke's actions, then it is an unacceptable vision. The fact is that while Baltimore needs state and federal assistance, it cannot base its existence solely on that kind of uncertain largess.

Instead, the Schmoke administration ought to embark on an all-out campaign to create jobs in Baltimore. This means luring new businesses and encouraging existing corporations to stay and expand their employment base.

Since World War II, the middle-class exodus from Baltimore has been only one of the reasons for the city's weakening circumstances. In the past two decades, an ever-increasing number of important private-sector employers also have moved to the surrounding counties, worsening the city's economic situation and its residents' chances of finding gainful employment.

It is laudable that the Schmoke administration is involved in the production of new and rehabbed housing units for low- and moderate-income homebuyers. But unless those families and individuals can find work in Baltimore, they have little reason to continue living here and they will be unlikely to have the money to afford payments and upkeep on their housing.

Yes, the city needs outside aid. But to survive, it also needs to search for ways to avoid becoming a ward of the state.

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