Baltimore needs a commuter tax

December 28, 2010

David F. Tufaro's op-ed, "A reform agenda for Baltimore's next mayor" (Dec. 27), is thoughtful and constructive. However, what it does not recognize is that Baltimore has been a bankrupt city for the past 40 to 45 years — its annual budget balanced because of federal and state subsidies. I submit that Baltimore cannot substantially reduce the property tax rate without a new revenue tax to take its place.

During the past 50 years, the population of Baltimore City has diminished from 960,000 to 630,000, the middle class having in effect voted with their feet by moving to the surrounding prosperous and lower-taxed counties. If Baltimore had aggressively pursued and obtained from the General Assembly a commuter tax paid by all those former Baltimoreans and others from the counties who work in the city but reside in the counties, our property tax rate would probably not be twice that of the counties.

There is no way to substantially and realistically reduce the property tax rate without the enactment of a substitute source of revenue. The commuter tax is not a novel one — it exists throughout the Northeast in many cities. It is a fair tax. City workers from the counties contribute to the cost of maintenance to the area from which they earn their livelihood.

A sound and lower city tax bill will do more to commence a real and permanent revival of Baltimore than for the next mayor to go hat in hand to Washington and Annapolis for more subsidies. Above all, a substantially lower rate will attract builders, investors, commerce, etc., which will bring jobs and revenue. As the Republican candidate for mayor in the general elections of 1979 to 1991, my principal program was to work for a commuter tax. My efforts failed, but maybe the time is ripe now. Our property tax rate, at twice the amount of the surrounding counties, must end, or Baltimore will just go on with hat-in-hand begging for handouts.

We need a mayor with loyal and aggressive members of the city's delegation in Annapolis who will put aside supporting the priorities of the surrounding counties and make reciprocal alliances with the Eastern Shore, Southern and Western Maryland and support Baltimore's priority — a commuter tax. For many years prior to 1950 Baltimore supported the counties with its tax revenue to the state. Now is the time for the counties, in their self-interest, to work with Baltimore to relieve its burdensome and disproportionate property tax with a fair commuter tax.

Samuel A. Culotta, Baltimore

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