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I'm beginning to think that Baltimore's mayor-to-be has come up with a nifty way to separate optimists from pessimists. When Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this week that raising the property tax rate would be "the last resort" but remains "on the table, as any other revenue source is," you could either focus on the "last resort" part and feel relieved or the "on the table" part and take it as a warning of tax hikes to come.

Judging by the comments, many of you see the glass half empty. At least when it comes to city property taxes.

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Charlie wrote, "If you want to further drive down housing prices and make Baltimore City real estate look like a bad investment, then by all means look into raising the property taxes. If that's what happens, I will never vote for her in an election."

jtn commented, "If property taxes are raised, I'm moving. I pay almost 6k a year for a row home that is 12x70. It's ridiculous."

And GreenAcresIsThePlaceToBe said, "Just knowing that they are even considering raising property taxes in the City is unnerving. I pay (2X,3X, maybe even 4X)higher property taxes, Special Benefits taxes, exponentially higher utility bills, and 2X or 3X higher insurance to live in a rowhouse in the City versus a single family house in one of the suburbs. It is already ridiculous. Don't worry about my vote if you raise taxes, I won't be here for the next election."

Stephen commented from the other perspective: "From what Rawlings-Blake said, it sounds like she agrees that raising property taxes is a terrible idea, which is why it's a last resort. The city is in a dire financial situation, so increased property taxes sound possible, but do you really think more people would move out because of high property taxes or if more fire stations are closed and the police department is stripped of funding? I'd rather pay a little extra tax rather than sacrifice safety."

The property-tax rate is a political hot potato everywhere but especially in Baltimore. At $2.268 per $100 in assessed value, it's the highest in the state -- and more than twice as much as second-place Baltimore County's $1.10 rate.

You can find people who will defend this as sadly necessary for a city with more cost burdens than its neighbors, but no one's happy about it. Real estate agents say it drives some residents out and convinces outsiders not to move in. Baltimore economist Anirban Basu regularly opines that the city ought to start lowering it now, tough budget notwithstanding.

Rawlings-Blake did touch on this issue in her comments to the Sun's editorial board, saying "my goal is to get to the point where we could reduce the property tax and make the city more competitive with other jurisdictions."

Inevitably, a jurisdiction that must balance its budget has only three short-term choices if revenues aren't rising: Raise taxes, cut spending or both. Which would you prefer? (Or do you see a fourth choice?)

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