Baltimore: the view from 2021

March 15, 2011|By Marta H. Mossburg

DATELINE: Baltimore, March 2021

New Census figures show Baltimore lost 50,000 people during the past decade, bringing the population to 571,000.

It also lost 10,000 jobs, according to Census data.

Mayor Christian Johansson said he was "stung" by the figures. "We've invested $3 billion in the new convention center and arena and State Center complex. We lured the Indy 500 to Baltimore. We built a $1 billion incubator for high-tech jobs. I don't get it."

The former secretary of Business and Economic Development under then-Gov. Martin O'Malley vowed to do everything he could to "get Baltimore moving forward."

"It will require shared sacrifice, but I know we can do it together with a targeted approach," added Mr. Johansson.

The declining population has meant lower revenue from property and other taxes over the decade at the same time the costs to overhaul the city's crumbling infrastructure and to pay retirement benefits have skyrocketed. Demographics don't help. More people are retired from the city workforce and collecting benefits than are currently working.

As a result, "all options are on the table," said the mayor. Those include raising property taxes — four times higher than other parts of the state after two hikes since 2011. The City Council is considering other revenue-raising measures. One option being debated is hiring panhandlers to collect donations for the city at key intersections and allowing advertisers to sponsor them.

"We've already approached Big Kahuna Bail Bonds about a premier location at Baltimore and President streets," said M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. "Big Kahuna management is very excited about the opportunity, and we are in ongoing discussions with other relevant businesses."

Meanwhile, Baltimore's state delegation is worried about how the Census will impact their size.

"There are not enough prisoners to make up for the population loss," said House Majority Whip Talmadge Branch. He is referring to the state law that allows prisoners to be counted at their home addresses. Baltimore is home to about 60 percent of the state's 23,000 prisoners.

Mr. Branch said he is considering sponsoring legislation to count all prisoners as residents of Baltimore City to help prevent the delegation from losing power in Annapolis. But even that measure would not stop the city from losing a seat or more to Frederick and Harford counties and other fast-growing areas of the state.

Other cities around the country reversed losses of previous decades. Washington added another 30,000 people since 2011 on top of the 30,000 gain from 2000 to 2010. Boston and San Francisco also added people, as did long-suffering Detroit. People fled Motor City and Michigan between 2000 and 2010 as the auto industry floundered. But more than a million people have moved back to the state following broad-based tax cuts and an innovative school voucher program in Detroit that made city living an option for many families with school-age children, said a spokesman for that city's mayor's office.

Statewide, Maryland's population grew by 10 percent, mainly from immigrants.

At the same time, the number of people making more than a million dollars each year declined for the 13th straight year to 1,000, according to figures from the comptroller's office. The number of millionaires peaked in 2007 at 7,192.

Comptroller Stan Smith said he did not know why 500 fewer people with more than $1 million in yearly income filed tax returns in the state last year at the same time the stock market increased by 10 percent. "I'm baffled," he said.

Many of those people are moving to Florida, according to IRS data. That state does not tax income, whereas Maryland imposes a surcharge of 6.25 percent on income over $1 million and combined state and local income taxes can reach more than 8 percent.

Maryland's growing population makes less per person on average than five years ago. A spokesman for the governor's office said residents should not worry about lower tax revenue impacting state services. "A growing poor population means more federal aid for roads, schools, low-income housing and a broad array of other programs," he said.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears every other Wednesday in The Baltimore Sun. Her e-mail is

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