Property Tax Changes Are Essential – Not a “Silver Bullet” or “Pandering”
This is my site Written by admin on August 30, 2011 – 6:37 am

Some have claimed that the property tax relief suggested by the Mayoral challengers is “pandering,” aimed at getting votes.

However, normalizing Baltimore’s sky-high property taxes is not pandering at all; it is one part of a strategy that would permanently disrupt the status-quo. The Mayor is afraid of it, and seeks to discredit the notion.

Here’s why:

  1. Sky-high property tax rates are one of several reasons for the prolonged outmigration from the city between 1960 and 2010. Property taxes are not the only reason for this outward migration – the 1968 riots, crime, cheap fuel, new roads, subsidized suburban development are some others – however, for those looking to buy a home or start a business, the choice between Baltimore and its surrounding counties too often favors the counties.
  2. The outmigration from the city has resulted in a distortion of the voting population. Most of the remaining current city population does not vote (as evidenced by consistently low turnout). The few that do often vote based on familiarity alone (mention by a pastor, or in a television ad), or in exchange for developer tax breaks or city contract business.
  3. “Fixing” tax rates in Baltimore would add new voters and change voting patterns. Notice that our Mayors seldom talk about actually growing Baltimore’s population. People moving to the city would mean an influx of new, differently motivated voters. Voting blocs which have been groomed and cultivated to vote in predictable ways could be overwhelmed by new voices, and even worse, by new and better candidates. No one with power wants this – not the politicians, developers, or the contractors.
  4. The Mayor wants to repel, rather than grow, the middle class. The Mayor has made clear she wants to build a casino, and use tax revenues from that to help “pay for” the modest tax break she has proposed. However, a casino will further drive middle class voters out of the city and attempt to balance the budget on the backs of gamblers (many of whom have their own addictions). She has already received $4,000 from Las Vegas-based Caesar’s Entertainment. We wager that will translate into a casino in Carroll-Camden, and a gradual exodus of middle class voters from Pigtown and other nearby neighborhoods.

Here are the facts about property tax relief:

  1. Normalizing tax rates would increase city revenues in the long term. A city with no new investment, and no tax base, cannot survive. Baltimore has been heading in that direction. Other cities have been growing and prospering. Bringing property taxes in line with our neighbor counties would make Baltimore attractive again, spurring real job growth and higher revenues.
  2. Tax normalization is not a silver bullet. Some have rightly questioned whether fixing property taxes is the “one thing” which will fix Baltimore. Of course it is not – it is one of many things which would serve to make Baltimore more attractive, interesting and vibrant, and restore it to being an engine of wealth creation.
  3. This isn’t just an “election” issue, it’s a proven way to address stagnation. Many assume that candidates have centered in on this issue because it will “get votes.” However, candidates Jody Landers and Otis Rolley have both spent their professional careers studying this issue, here and in other cities. They both know the topic inside and out, and they’ve been talking about this issue for years – not just in an election context.
  4. If all the challengers are saying it, maybe there’s something to it. There is little advantage for a challenger to copy another’s positions. If anything, one would expect a challenger to try to set themselves apart. But everyone except for the current Mayor recognizes the need to make Baltimore a more attractive investment. The Mayor likes things the way they are.
  5. The current rates are regressive and put the highest burden on those with the least. As a percentage of income, property taxes most impact the poor. Changing the tax rates to make them more fair, and putting the highest tax rates onto vacant, blighted properties is an obvious strategy, and one the Mayor has said she will not consider.
  6. This has everything to do with crime, schools, and jobs. A city in decline is one without jobs, one that can’t afford to pay for its schools, and one which is destined to have serious crime, drug, and social problems. Reversing population loss makes all of these problems better and easier to manage.

Property tax relief is not an election-year strategy; it is a serious idea that is proposed again and again by reasonable people who love the city. This uninspired, lackluster Mayor would have you believe it is a reckless strategy, but it is only dangerous if we believe that our best days are behind us. For those interested in growing the city, it is the only sane choice.

For the reasons we cited, we can only conclude that the Mayor does not want to grow the city, but instead seeks to accelerate its decay and decline, forcing out the middle class and empowering developers, contractors, and casino operators. That is not a strategy we can endorse.

Don’t be fooled: the property tax issue is not about your tax bill, or about getting votes. It is about the size and composition of the voting population in the city!

We cannot afford to let the balance of power tip further in favor of corporations, contractors, and politicos. Only reversing the flow of people out of the city will put citizens back in charge in Baltimore.

If you have had enough decline, decay, population loss, and crime, exercise your vote for Jody Landers, Otis Rolley, or Catherine Pugh on September 13.


We owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Hanke and Steven Walters, whose recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, and reference to the “Curley Effect” paper by Edward Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer, informed this article.

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