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The Mayor's budget crisis is a battle of 2 Baltimores

Mayor and City Budget Director
Mayor and City Budget Director
Baltimore Sun

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council have quite the dilemma on their hands. There is a proposed $2.2 billion budget on the table and it has to solve a $120 million deficit. What they have come up with is a proposal to slash 600 city jobs -200 of which are police and firefighters – along with severe budget cuts to a depleted Department of Parks and Recreation. On the other hand, the budget contains a $50 million revenue generator full of new taxes and fees. Nine revenue producing vehicles targeted at consumers, small businesses and non-profits. Let the battle lines be drawn. The premise has been set for a knockdown, drag out fight between Old Baltimore and New Baltimore.

This battle will be political. However, to get to the core of this argument, the City Councilmen’s grandstanding to protect the interests of their constituencies and management of police pensions needs to be taken out of the equation. What you are left with is Old Baltimore versus New Baltimore. Old Baltimore is the extreme east and west poles of the city. Old Baltimore, like the Southwest District, cannot have any less of a police presence than what it presently sees. Old Baltimore, like in the Oliver or Cecil-Kirk communities, cannot have recreation centers closed where youths are given no other options but to hang on corners.

New Baltimore consists of the downtown neighborhoods that wrap around the Harbor and the Charles St. corridor - full of young professionals and commercial enterprises. They wonder why do I pay so much in property taxes and feel as if I get nothing in return. Businesses wonder will I be able to sustain my enterprise when I get an unduly burden of local government’s revenue generators focused on me.

This is a pretty simplified characterization of the differences but the point is that there are 2 different cities within the Baltimore borders. It seems as if the city’s past has attempted to deal with them separately which has caused a greater gulf between the two and created a government that can govern neither effectively.

Baltimore reached its heyday nearly 40 – 50 years ago when Sparrows Point was considered the biggest Steel Mill in America. However, that age is gone. When you look at the Flint, Michigans and Cleveland, Ohios of the world, you notice that cities need the attributes of a “New Baltimore” when its industrial lifeline can no longer pump life into its arteries. And cities also need stable communities in which to attract families and to keep and sustain those who currently live in the city.

So, to our new Mayor and the City Council, start finding more ways to leverage Baltimore’s strong base of institutions and non-profits into job and community building, create incentives for the development of dilapidated areas for job and community building, procure stimulus funds for the creation of employment co-ops for job and community building and get some other smart people in a room to discuss how to create jobs and sustain communities in this city. You can say that you’re in the midst of doing it now, but the present crisis tells me you’re not doing enough of it or doing it effectively.

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