Best bang for the buck is to send slots money to schools not property tax relief

July 21, 2011

Baltimore City would get the best bang for the buck by allocating the majority of its slot machine revenue to upgrading school facilities. ( "Mayor to seek 9 % property tax cut" July 20) The slot machine law allows the city to use the funds only for property tax reduction and public school construction. Mayor Rawlings-Blake's plan to allocate 90% of Baltimore City's share of slot machine revenue to property tax reductions and only 10% to school construction is a terrible missed opportunity.

A property tax reduction of 9% over ten years is almost trivial. Sure, families will benefit from the average $400 annual savings. But Baltimore City's rate will remain two times those in neighboring jurisdictions. Baltimore's ability to attract middle-class families will not improve noticeably.

However, devoting the funds to new or upgraded schools could make dramatic changes to many neighborhoods. The slot machine money could fund as many as 10 new or renovated elementary schools. New or renovated schools will absolutely help improve the education, and the health of kids. They'll also have dramatic economic benefits.

The perception of a failing school system is a major barrier to attracting and holding middle class families in the city. Old buildings in poor condition make it harder to improve the school system for reasons ranging from teacher morale to access to science facilities. Plus, the perception created by these terrible buildings turns off residents and house-hunters no matter how good the program inside the school becomes.

Imagine the impact if we could reverse this situation. What if every high school and every elementary school was a building that neighbors pointed to with pride? What if each one was either a modern, inviting presence in the neighborhood, or it was a handsome old building restored to its original dignity? What if these buildings could be used day and night, seven days a week, 12 months a year as community resources for a range of services and activities in addition to regular schooling? Wouldn't that go a long way towards helping families with school-age children to choose Baltimore City?

Shouldn't most of Baltimore's slot machine money be invested is school buildings to make that a reality?

Neil L. Bergsman, Baltimore

The writer is director of the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy Institute

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