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Key to reviving Baltimore - lower taxes

Derelict houses in eastern Baltimore where population has been in decline since the 1950s,
Derelict houses in eastern Baltimore where population has been in decline since the 1950s, (Astrid Riecken / Astrid Riecken)

Regarding your recent editorial, “Let’s not explain away Baltimore’s population loss. It really is a bad sign.” (March 23), there is much to agree with in terms of the tone and content of your assessment. The news of Baltimore's population loss is as ominous as panorama of storm clouds gathering over the city’s skyline that accompanied the editorial, and though your conclusion is equally murky, the news of our continued population decline is not so surprising.

There is an underlying economic reason why more people leave than come to Baltimore City, and the culprit is our great tax burden. People want to make money, and young people especially don't want to settle somewhere only to suffer the pernicious effects of tax capitalization because of high property and income tax rates.

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But we could attract them here — not force them, as the City Council has recently proposed with its residency requirements for the city's senior management — by cutting the real property tax rate to a level that is competitive with that of surrounding jurisdictions. With a more favorable rate, financial, human and social capital will rush to cash in. Let me remind you that in this newspaper, Loyola University Maryland Professor of Economics Stephen J.K. Walters has already persuasively made that case (“A solution for Baltimore’s tax problem,” Nov. 13, 2015).

Unfortunately, the trade of deadly, illicit and profitable substances has spread within Baltimore County. It's simply the inevitable result of the agglomeration of the drug trade, this market being a more attractive and lucrative engine of wealth for many already spurned, unqualified, or passed over by the traditional, legal economy. The resulting criminal activity that supports this drug trade is simply committed by perfectly rational economic actors who realize the gains outweigh the potential costs.

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But these costs, perceived or real, have affected the current and future population at large. Thus, Baltimore's current predicament is the result of capital outflows over time. We need to attract capital by lowering the property tax rates, and the result over the years will be a rebirth of this great city, much in the same way Boston, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. — all of which were in similar situations a generation ago — were able to return to their superstar status. Otherwise, what Roger Colton wrote of our water supply system, in which the rising costs of supply are being shared among fewer and fewer people, will be true of our municipal services and our ability to pay for them. "Baltimore", he writes, "has entered into a dizzying spiral."

Mark Dennis

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