Mayor: Baltimore is not in decline

Baltimore's mayor takes exception with the gov.-elect's claim that the city is in decline.

Gov.-elect Larry Hogan is correct in his belief that Baltimore can be the state's primary driver of economic prosperity with the right investments ("Hogan says city should drive state economy Dec. 30). Although we sit on different sides of the aisle, I was pleased to hear the governor-elect acknowledge the importance of Baltimore to Maryland's economic recovery. When we met shortly after the election, the governor-elect conveyed the same beliefs, and I outlined for him some of my priorities that would put Baltimore at the forefront of the economic growth he envisions for Maryland.

For far too long, we have watched as Baltimore's population declined, businesses shut their doors and communities were abandoned. However, those of us committed to this city knew of its resilience and that where there are challenges, there are also opportunities. Today, we are seeing the most growth we have seen in decades, which signals progress, not decline.

Business, job and population growth are all increasing while property taxes and structural deficits are decreasing. There are more cranes in the air than at any time in the past decade due to initiatives like my administration's newly created Apartment Tax Credit, which enhances our city's already thriving market.

The path to where we are today started much like the road ahead for the governor-elect. When I entered office, Baltimore faced a historic budget deficit and high taxes. My administration had to combat a mounting structural deficit that put Baltimore hundreds of millions of dollars in the red, while weathering a historic national recession.

We began implementing the city's first 10-year financial plan, known as Change to Grow, to create a well-defined road map for growing Baltimore's economy and responsibly cutting taxes. Our Change to Grow plan has already cut a $750 million structural deficit in half, reduced the property tax rate on homeowners by six percent with additional cuts coming, pumped tens of millions of new dollars into much-needed infrastructure investment and shrunk the city's retiree health liability by two-thirds.

These reforms earned the city its first bond rating upgrade in eight years, signaling a growing confidence in Baltimore as a hub for economic growth and affirming the economic progress we have made.

The financial reforms my Administration has put in place coupled with strong state investment has helped businesses and jobs to flourish throughout Baltimore. Local companies like Under Armour, Millennial Media, Groove and Pixelligent continue to expand, reinvest and provide jobs in Baltimore. Additionally, national companies like Pandora, Spardata, Mindgrub and KAO, USA, as well as state entities like MAIF, have chosen to relocate to the city and grow with us.

In just three months, the Horseshoe Baltimore Casino has provided 2,200 new city-based jobs — a majority of which are held by city residents. Additionally, more than 1,000 new jobs will be available when Amazon opens its new fulfillment center in Southeast Baltimore later this year.

We are also seeing great residential growth through projects that are utilizing city investments. Through the Vacants to Value program, approximately 3,000 vacant and blighted properties have been demolished or rehabbed, helping to spur more than $107 million in private investment for communities struggling the most.

Baltimore is far from a city in decline. Businesses have discovered that Baltimore has become a hub for regional competitiveness and economically diverse growth. Thousands of jobs are being created for our families, and we are continuing to reinvest in neighborhoods and create sustainable communities of choice that will only grow in the coming years with the right investments from both the state and city.

My commitment is to work with the governor-elect to further strengthen the bond between Baltimore City and the state because the fortunes of both rise and fall together. We have to find the right balance between fiscal accountability and the understanding that you have to invest to grow. The notion of cutting your way to prosperity has been tried and failed at every level of government, and Baltimore certainly would not be on the path we are today based on cuts alone.

I look forward to continuing the discussion with Governor-elect Hogan and remain hopeful that we can work together in partnership for a Baltimore that continues to realize its full potential as an economic engine for the state.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is mayor of the City of Baltimore; her email is mayor@baltimorecity.gov.

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