A Band-Aid isn't a cure No new taxes: Still need long-range solution to fiscal problems plaguing Baltimore.

June 05, 1996

ALL THE YELLING that people have come to expect when the Baltimore City Council considers the mayor's budget proposals was nowhere evident Monday night. Nary a disparaging word was heard as the council voted down a 10 percent increase in the city piggyback income tax proposed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Nine council members abstained rather than vote against the mayor, but no one fought for his plan.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who opposed the tax hike, was the clear victor. He didn't gloat. Rather, he credited the mayor's staff for helping develop an alternative. Instead of raising the piggyback tax to cover a $4.9 million revenue shortfall, it wants to spend $3.2 million that would ordinarily be appropriated to a "rainy-day" emergency fund and make an additional $1.7 million in spending reductions.

That Band-Aid will bring only temporary relief. And such a plan may be complicated by the council's desire to restore $4.6 million in cuts previously announced by Mr. Schmoke. But whatever modifications are made for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Bell have got to face the many questions they have yet to answer about Baltimore's long-term financial future.

Last year, Mr. Schmoke updated his five-year Strategic Financial Plan. That document can be an important tool in charting the city's direction, but it does not go far enough. It did not anticipate the accelerated early retirement program approved by the council that may spur more than 1,000 workers to quit their jobs this year. It does not detail how the city can take advantage of that workforce reduction by reducing or eliminating certain services.

Instead of allowing 1,000 retirements to occur haphazardly, the city should implement a department-by-department employee reduction plan that acknowledges smaller government, not a raid of the "rainy-day" fund, is the real solution to city money problems, It's good to see the budget process move smoothly this year, but tough decisions can't be avoided, even if they cause a fight. Mr. Bell says he may propose a council/administration committee that would rely on private-sector advice to downsize city government. Will the mayor agree?

Pub date: 6/05/96

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