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Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Labor unions and elected officials are launching a campaign opposing property tax cuts

By meerna Jun12,2024

Elected officials, labor groups and progressive activists launched a coordinated campaign Tuesday against a proposed measure to lower Baltimore’s property tax rate, calling themselves the “Baltimore Is Not For Sale” coalition.

The charter amendment they oppose, pushed by a group of politicians and economists, would gradually lower Baltimore’s property tax rate each year through 2031. The movement organizes and raises funds under the moniker Renew Baltimore.

Outside the Pigtown fire station, union workers said the loss of property tax revenue the proposal would cause would destroy city services. Pointing to BCFD Engine 55, Truck 23, Medic 22, research analyst Chris Meyer of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy said the cuts would lead to the closure of such fire stations.

“We would need to add 325,000 new residents in just seven years for the (Renew Baltimore) plan to pay off. It’s fantasy,” Meyer said.

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Baltimore has the highest property tax rate in the state; homes are taxed at 2.248% of their assessed value. Revenue from these taxes accounted for $1.14 billion of the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Renew Baltimore is calling for the city’s interest rate to be cut by almost half to 1.20% over the next seven years. Anne Arundel County’s rate is 0.98%, Baltimore County’s is 1.10%, and Howard County’s is 1.014%.

Renew Baltimore activists say the city’s tax rate discourages residents and businesses seeking better deals in surrounding counties. Vocal supporters of the proposal include former mayor Jack Young and former city council members Carl Stokes and Rikki Spector. Renew Baltimore has been collecting signatures for months, but election officials couldn’t confirm Tuesday that the measure would appear on Baltimore ballots this fall.

Donors contributed more than $238,000 to the 2023 ballot effort. The largest donors included real estate and landlord groups. Former mayoral candidate Mary Miller donated $10,000; developer Jack Luetkemeyer Jr. donated $2,500.

“Why a mortgage tax break that puts you out of work?” asked Kenya Campbell, president of the state teachers union.

Organizers include the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions, which represents more than 100 local unions; AFSCME, which represents city workers; Baltimore Firefighters IAFF Local 734; and AFT Maryland, the teachers union. Activist groups Jewish United for Justice, the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and Progressive Maryland are also providing support.

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Supporters of the Baltimore City Is Not For Sale coalition also took time to criticize the resolution, which asks voters whether the number of councils should be reduced from 14 to eight.

Councilman Zeke Cohen recalled knocking on doors across the city when he was campaigning for City Council president and asking City Hall what they needed. “You know what I haven’t heard once? “I want less representation on the City Council,” he said.

The measure is backed by People for Elected Accountability and Civic Engagement (PEACE), a committee funded primarily by Sinclair executive chairman and Baltimore Sun owner David Smith, and is expected to appear on the ballot this fall.

In 2022, the same group sponsored a successful charter amendment that limited the number of officials elected to City Hall to two four-year terms. For such a dramatic measure, changing the statute was met with limited public opposition.

Officials and their aides were quick to disparage term limits behind closed doors, but there was no organized opposition until the month before the 2022 election, when enough signatures were collected to put the issue on the ballot.

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This time, the opposing forces of both Renew Baltimore and the council’s emissions reduction plan are moving ahead.

Elected officials attended the meeting, including council members Sharon Green Middleton, Odette Ramos, James Torrence and John Bullock. Mark Parker, who won the Democratic primary to represent Southeast Baltimore’s 1st District, was next to them. Marvin James, chief advisor to Mayor Brandon Scott, attended on behalf of the administration.

Anna Humoso, an organizer with Progressive Maryland, said the coalition will launch door knocking, canvassing and social media campaigns “to reach everyone in our city.”

She said the groups are recruiting hundreds of workers for the upcoming November election to get voters “right in front of the voting booth and let them know to vote against this question.”

Organizers have until July 29 to submit enough valid signatures to election officials to place their initiatives on the November ballot.

Emily Sullivan works at Baltimore City Hall. She joined Banner after three years at WYPR, where she won numerous awards for her radio reporting on the city’s politics and culture. She previously reported for NPR’s national airwaves, focusing on business news and breaking news.

By meerna

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