Developing Baltimore at the expense of its children

BUILD: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's claim that development isn't hurting city kids is wrong.

Concerning the funding of Baltimore City schools, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's statement to Dan Rodricks last week on WYPR that "any TIFs and PILOTs have no impact on the wealth calculator" that helps determine state school funding is simply wrong. It defies most of the studies that have been done on this topic and the Baltimore Sun's recent investigative report.

So let's be clear: the city's waterfront properties and growing tax assessable base from downtown development do result in cuts to city school funding. If our city government didn't give away as much in special deals and tax breaks to developers, then Baltimore City would have more money for public schools.

For years, Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD) has raised alarms about the subsidies that were given away to developers in the form of tax abatements, tax increment financing (TIFs) and payment-in-lieu-of taxes deals (PILOTs). Subsidizing Baltimore's newest developments always with the promise that "everyone in Baltimore will benefit" and with little to no concern for the far-reaching impact must end.

During Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration, BUILD brought 2,000 residents from neighborhoods throughout the city to witness the downtown development that benefited from subsidies without corporate responsibility.

Just a few years ago, hundreds of BUILD members walked "the money trail" to see where our city tax dollars were being spent. We landed in Harbor East where one developer — John Paterakis Sr. — would pocket $9.4 million in tax breaks every year. Mr. Paterakis told us when we met that he needed the tax breaks to provide for his grandchildren's legacy. We asked, "What about our children's present and future?"

According to a Feb. 7th Baltimore Sun article, "Baltimore officials acknowledge that they hadn't considered the loss in state aid that can come from pricey development when they grant breaks slashing what the projects pay in local property taxes." Yet, we warned the mayor and the City Council that a growing Baltimore tax base would result in a cut to state funding for education. We noted at the time that neither of the economic analyses offered by the mayor's office or by the Baltimore Development Corporation included any reference to the potential negative impact to education funding.

Last week, when Gov. Larry Hogan announced his budget, including $35 million in cuts to Baltimore City Public Schools, the chickens came home to roost. The travesty is that the increased taxable base and tax breaks given to developers have needlessly harmed the public school families of Baltimore City.

Now is the time for the mayor to acknowledge that these tax breaks have hurt the children of Baltimore and do everything she can to restore education funding. . A new schools CEO has been on the ground less than a year, the 21st century building initiative that should result in at least 30 new or renovated school buildings is just getting off the ground, and gains are being made in the classroom. Any cuts to education will set us back years.

The mayor is right about a few things. Two-thirds of the funding cuts come as a result of decisions that Governor Hogan made. For a governor who wants to attract business, education is the last place that he should be cutting.

Yet, the mayor must do more than place blame on the governor. There are at least three priorities the mayor could champion to help restore education funding. First, stop the decades-old practice of subsidizing downtown development at the expense of Baltimore's children. Second, convene all developers in Baltimore who have received public subsidies and charge them to make up any remaining cuts to Baltimore schools. Third, work with state legislators over the long term to change the state education funding formula to rely more on income rather than on property values.

We challenge every Baltimorean to demand no less of our mayor, governor and developers who benefited from decades of subsidies.

Rev. Andrew Foster Connors, Rev. Glenna Huber and Bishop Douglas Miles are current and former chairs of Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development (BUILD). They may be reached at buildiaf@verizon.net or on Twitter: @BUILDBaltimore.

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