Gov. Larry Hogan met with a group of incoming Baltimore City Council members Friday to discuss tearing down vacant properties and luring businesses to the city using tax credits.
At Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point, the Republican governor said he invited the freshmen Democrats to breakfast to open lines of communication to get bipartisan goals accomplished in the city.
"I wanted to get a chance to meet the new members of the City Council to let them know we are very much looking forward to working with them," Hogan said. "I wanted to hear from them about issues affecting their district and let them know we are looking forward to partnering with them to solve some of the problems in the city."
With eight freshmen Democrats joining the 15-member City Council, and Mayor-elect Catherine E. Pugh about to take office, Baltimore's government is undergoing a makeover. Seven of the new council members met with Hogan Friday morning. The governor said he already has a strong relationship with Pugh and considers her a friend.
Hogan stressed his desire to speed up a demolition plan targeting thousands of Baltimore's vacant properties. The Baltimore Sun reported in September that a state program meant to accelerate demolition was off to a slow start. Officials identified more than 370 properties to be demolished by the end of 2016, but just 53 properties had been approved for razing.
Hogan blamed the city for slowing the work down. He said he's asking city officials to help ramp up the effort.
"We've invested $100 million in tearing down blighted properties, but we're having problems with the city," Hogan said. "The city has been lagging behind, so we haven't been able to spend the money.
"They can't get the permitting done on time. The only thing the city has to do is get the title and get the permits done. We manage the entire rest of the process. Our guys are saying we're in a holding pattern."
A spokesman for Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not respond to a request for comment.
Hogan also pitched his plan to offer tax breaks to entice manufacturers to move to Baltimore and parts of the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, areas where unemployment is much higher than in the rest of the state. Hogan's proposal, which failed last year in the General Assembly, calls for a 10-year corporate income tax break for such companies.
Employees of those companies earning less than $65,000 a year would be exempt from state income taxes for a decade.
"I told them it never got out of committee last year in the legislature," the governor said. "We thought it would create thousands of jobs in Baltimore City, where we waive taxes for 10 years if a company would come into the city.
"We're going to try to enlist their support in convincing the legislators to bring it up for a vote."
Opponents argued the bill would put existing manufacturing businesses at a disadvantage. The governor blamed Democrats in the General Assembly for stifling his plans.
"It was politics," he said. "They wouldn't bring it up because they didn't want a Republican governor to do something good for people in Baltimore City."
Leon F. Pinkett III, who is joining the City Council to represent West Baltimore, called the meeting a "good informal time just to sit down with the governor and talk about the city."
"It signals the importance of Baltimore to the state," he said. "There has to be a partnership to make our city better because of its importance to the entire state. Our state is better when Baltimore is better."
Kris Burnett, who is taking over the City Council seat in Southwest Baltimore, said the new council members also told the governor what they want for their districts.
"It was an opportunity for him to hear our priorities, both individually and as a group, of things that are important to us," he said. "We talked about workforce training. We talked about jobs and education. It was an opportunity for me and us to share our priorities with the governor."