Reality Check: Lowering Property Taxes

Candidate for Mayor Nick Mosby has just today published a paper called “Connecting The Dots, A 15 Point plan for Baltimore’s Future.” It’s his platform statement.

Item 6 is about lowering property taxes and other housing-related objectives. To quote from page 6 of his document,

We will make Baltimore more livable by lowering the City’s property tax for ALL properties, putting the city on a level playing field with surrounding counties by removing the cost of waste disposal from property tax fees…

The capitalized “ALL” is in the original text. Unfortunately, just because you separate the pure property tax from the garbage and recycling fees doesn’t mean you don’t still have to pay both, so what’s the point of that?

Needless to say, he’s not the only candidate promising to lower property taxes. But there’s a problem. Read it and weep.

There will be no lowering the property taxes in Baltimore unless and until the city’s economy and population grow enough to allow it.

Period. That’s all there is to it. It’s not a theory. It’s a fact. It may not be what voters want to hear, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Why? Well, for a number of reasons, chief among them being that the city government is poor and unable to provide a full array of essential services with its current property tax, share of state income tax and fee income. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has already sold city-owned income-producing properties, cut active and retired public employee compensation and postponed critically needed maintenance and repair of the city’s infrastructure. Not to mention the many other services that would benefit the people of Baltimore, but that the city can’t afford to provide – including greater investments in education. And yet Mr. Mosby and other candidates would lead you to believe that they can cut property taxes ahead of economic recovery and growth?!

Sure, you can eliminate wasteful government spending, but a smart Mayor isn’t going to pass that savings, even if it were huge, along to residents and businesses in the form of lower property taxes. No way. For the foreseeable future, money the new Mayor saves will be immediately reinvested in providing enhanced city services – such as for better public education and anti-crime programs. To do otherwise would be irresponsible.

That said, there are thousands and thousands of vacant properties that are not currently paying taxes – properties that can be used to encourage economic growth and repopulation by giving them away with the added benefit of zero property taxes for years. Programs like this – on which Baltimore Rising is working to introduce to the City Council – don’t cost the city anything, don’t reduce city revenues and will eventually increase property tax and income tax revenues derived from their neighborhoods.

In any case, its going to take significant economic recovery to enable even the best-managed city government to lower property taxes. Short of that recovery, the city just can’t afford it.

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