Dear President Biden,
Hey, it’s us again. It seems like it was only about three weeks ago that we last wrote you on behalf of the people of Baltimore. Perhaps that’s because it was. How time flies. You came for an Oct. 21 CNN Town Hall at Center Stage. We told you how much your economic agenda would mean to this city, how important it was for our own economic recovery, how we need both physical improvements (road repair, broadband) and human investment (affordable health care and day care). You even wrote us back on Twitter: “Baltimore — I got your note. I hear you, and I’m working on some things that I think will help.” And now we see you’re coming back to tour our port and maybe talk about your infrastructure bill that passed late Friday and efforts to address supply chain delays.
First, welcome back to the shores of the Patapsco River. You might now be officially meeting with Mayor Brandon Scott more often than our state’s governor seems willing to do. And congratulations on getting the first half of your economic agenda through Congress. Bet Terry McAuliffe wishes it had happened a bit sooner, but maybe his loss in the Virginia gubernatorial race was a blessing in disguise if it gets Democrats on Capitol Hill on the same page. Your even more ambitious Build Back Better legislation may finally get somewhere (fingers crossed), and cities like Baltimore, struggling with concentrated poverty and disparities of opportunity made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, could see the kind of transformative investment that’s both needed and overdue.
And so with this new optimism and possible momentum in the air, we feel compelled to offer this one bit of advice: Please, Mr. President, let’s make every dollar count. It’s one thing to pass legislation to increase government spending, it’s quite another to make sure that the money goes to good and worthy projects, and is not simply consumed by the politically favored and special interests that swarm over such bills like vultures over fresh roadkill. You know the type. Highways to nowhere; make-work projects that create high-paying union jobs but nothing else of consequence; larded up spending in the districts of the powerful. These are unwelcome at any time, they are especially repulsive when attached to nearly $3 trillion or so in new spending.
Want to play right into the hands of the extreme right that sees you as profligate or socialist or a Karl Marx groupie? Then let this process follow the usual Washington path. Republicans, including our own Gov. Larry Hogan, have unfairly portrayed Build Back Better as a liberal wish list. Governor Hogan was even back in CNN over the weekend hailing passage of the infrastructure bill but bad-mouthing BBB. In reality, both measures are capable of producing political payoffs and spurring serious economic investment. Voters understand this — at least when they are not deliberately being fed misinformation on the usual social media outlets. When Americans are asked directly about Build Back Better components like pre-K schooling, expanding Medicare benefits and paid family and medical leave, they support them — about two-thirds favor them, according to a Navigator Research poll.
And please don’t insult us by suggesting this isn’t a danger. It’s always a danger. Some Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for a rather large payoff to the rich by raising the SALT tax deduction (the ability to write off state and local taxes from your federal returns) to an irresponsible level (from the current $10,000 to a whopping $80,000). Oh, and while on the subject of taxes, can we just add that we’d like to see most, if not all, of your new spending paid for with responsible tax reforms like the proposed 15% minimum corporate tax and a charge on stock buybacks as you have pledged? It’s a comfort to see a little fairness for hardworking Americans who don’t have the benefit of loopholes and teams of tax attorneys.
Anyway, enjoy your visit. Be sure to check out the new Neo-Panamax cranes at Seagirt Marine Terminal. Impressive, right? You have chosen your backdrop wisely. The Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore is one of our better success stories. An estimated 37,300 jobs and $3.3 billion in personal income are linked to port activities. Those are some pretty sweet jobs, too, paying nearly 10% more than Maryland’s average annual wage, according to a 2017 study. And they involved the public and private sectors working (and investing) together. If that’s not building back better, we don’t know what is.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.