20 cents by 2020

Baltimore mayor: I will deliver a 20-cent property tax cut for residential homeowners by 2020 as promised.

When I launched my plan to provide a 20-cent property tax cut for Baltimore City homeowners by 2020, my administration laid out a specific, year-by-year schedule for implementation of those cuts.

Today, thanks to our tough budget choices, we are ahead of that schedule. The property tax rate for homeowners that was $2.268 per $100 of assessed value when I became mayor is down to $2.130 for this current year — a total cut of nearly 14 cents.

If you look back at the year-by-year schedule that we laid out for taxpayers in February 2013 as part of our 10-year financial plan, we did not project to reduce the city's property tax rate to this level until the budget year beginning July 1, 2016. In other words, when we reduced property taxes to a rate of $2.130 for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2014, we were two years ahead of schedule.

Yet today, after pushing through the largest series of property tax cuts in the city's history amid the most challenging economic times in generations, I find myself in the odd position of having my commitment to property tax cuts being questioned because my finance department's preliminary budget recommends a one-year pause.

Let me be clear: I made a promise to deliver a 20-cent property tax cut for residential homeowners by 2020, and that's a promise I fully intend to keep. There is no backsliding, and there is no falling behind.

I have a very specific target, and my administration has been able to get ahead of the schedule that we laid out to get there. Before the city had received a single penny of revenues from the new Horseshoe Casino on which this plan relies, we made our initial reductions in the property tax rate.

I understand a bit of the skepticism about the one-year pause in property tax cuts given recent history in Baltimore. When the previous administration took a break from cutting taxes, that break ended up lasting five years.

But I believe I have earned the credibility, both through steadily cutting taxes and making other tough decisions, to be trusted to see through my tax-cutting plan by the deadline that I set.

I am proud of the balanced budget that was put forward last week with no new taxes or fees, no cuts to services, a modest raise for city workers and investments in key priorities like new school construction, job creation and recreation centers. We have funded a significant raise for police while launching a new schedule that puts more patrol officers on the streets when they're needed the most. We also will have reduced the city's long-term structural deficit — which was $745 million when I became mayor — by 53 percent.

We are shrinking the size of government, getting more out of the dollars we spend. And I have eliminated or reduced many minor privilege fees — a tax cut that will put $850,000 a year back into the pockets of small neighborhood businesses.

Allow me to also respond to those who are trying to move back the goalposts on how large of a property tax cut I have promised to our city's homeowners. In 2013, I said that a 50-cent property tax cut could ultimately be possible, but only if the City Council and I agreed on a plan to begin charging homeowners a fee for trash pick-up like many of our surrounding jurisdictions already do.

A potential trash collection fee continues to be studied by my administration and could be ready for implementation by 2018 — creating the potential for a further property tax cut of anywhere from 23 cents to 31 cents. This accounts for most of the difference between the 20 cents by 2020 plan that I have committed to and the possibility that we might be able to more than double that cut to 50 cents.

The release of our preliminary budget plan is only the first step of a public process that will take place over the next two months. As we receive updated financial projections, see the final results from Gov. Larry Hogan's first-year budget, work with our City Council partners, and hear feedback from our citizens, I am sure that a number of changes will be considered.

I look forward to a healthy conversation about our budget priorities. I believe that our spending plan focuses on making our city a better place for both those of us who live here and those who are considering making Baltimore their home. Cutting the property tax rate for Baltimore's homeowners is a key part of that plan, and I remain committed to 20 cents by 2020.

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

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