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Rawlings-Blake to create 'tax reform' task force

Stephanie Rawlings Blake, 44, mayor of Baltimore
Stephanie Rawlings Blake, 44, mayor of Baltimore (Robert K. Hamilton, Baltimore Sun)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake plans to announce a task force Wednesday to study whether the city's many taxes and fees can be cut or altered.

The 20-member "Baltimore Tax Policy Study Focus Group" includes developers, real estate lawyers and leaders of business associations.

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"Our tax structure hasn't fundamentally changed in many decades, while the city's economy has changed a lot during that time," said Andrew Kleine, the city's budget director.

Kleine, who will work with the task force, noted that manufacturing jobs have declined in Baltimore, while jobs in education and medicine have grown.

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"Is there a different tax structure that would be more efficient and reduce the burden on residents?" he asked.

Since Rawlings-Blake took office in 2010 with a $120 million budget deficit, she has instituted a flurry of new taxes and fees, including the bottle tax, taxi tax, billboard tax and the stormwater management fee.

She's also raised rates on water bills.

She says the moves were necessary to keep the city on solid financial footing, and helped increase Baltimore's bond rating.

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At the same time, the mayor has won approval of a 20-cent property tax cut for city homeowners.

"I understand what needed to be done to close the dramatic budget deficit that was left for me," Rawlings-Blake said.

She said the city could benefit from more tax policy changes.

"In order to be strategic, it's worth taking a look at the taxes we have in the city," she said.

Kleine said the city still plans to propose a trash fee.

"We still have serious fiscal challenges," Kleine said. "But we are poised for growth."

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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