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Baltimore must stop playing tax rebate game

Tax rebates and incentives for the "Superblock" project sound innocuous, but let's call these programs what they really are — subsidies funded by the taxpayers of Baltimore.

Will the 296 apartments to be built in the Superblock need police and fire protection? Will they need their garbage collected? Will the residents attend school, use a park or drive on a street? If they do, but do not pay taxes to cover the cost, then the rest of the homeowners in Baltimore will be stuck with the tab. While the project's developers enjoy 20 years of tax breaks, the rest of us who are less well-connected at City Hall can expect to suffer crushing property taxes, escalating fees and reduced city services.

MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakehas said that the 296 apartments in the Superblock are an important part of her plan to attract 10,000 new Baltimoreans. What she forgets is that by transferring the cost of supporting those new residents to existing, established homeowners, she creates a powerful incentive to flee the city in search of a fairer tax structure.

Our property tax system is Balkanized by incentives. We offer tax relief for new development or long-time homeowners. We offer credits to low-income or elderly residents. But we penalize people wanting to move to a home in an existing neighborhood or fix up a house in need of repair. Is it any wonder people don't move here?

The mayor insists that the only way to reduce property taxes for most of us is with theoretical slots revenue, but somehow this is not true for the Superblock. If, as Jay Brodie of the Baltimore Development Corporation has said, the economics of development in Baltimore won't work without tax breaks, then we need to recognize that the economics of simply living in Baltimore won't work without tax relief either.

Only by eliminating tax breaks, leveling the playing field, and asking everyone to pay their fair share of a lower, fairer tax rate do we stand a chance of retaining, and attracting people to the city. It may be painful for a while, but we should forgo short-term fixes and begin to solve the fundamental problem of an out of control tax rate.

As for the Superblock, we've been playing the subsidy game for almost 50 years, and the results are clear: If you rob Peter to pay Paul, there is a good chance Peter will move to Baltimore County.

Mac Nachlas, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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