Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake delivered her fourth State of the City address yesterday, five days after her administration released a dire 10-year fiscal forecast done by the consultant firm PFM. The report, which cost the city $460,000, said that even though Baltimore currently has a balanced budget, expenditures will consistently outpace revenues and lead to a cumulative shortfall of more than $740 million by fiscal year 2022. Still, in her address, the Mayor was optimistic. She said, "We have the power to overcome the difficulties of economic and budget pressures. If we have the courage to use that power, our city’s lingering narrative of post-industrial decline will not be the story of our future." The full text of the speech is here.
She trumpeted several accomplishments, including the city’s reduced rate of violent crime, as well as her role in the deal that may bring the construction of a new intermodal facility in Baltimore. But her most anticipated statements dealt with the city's finances. One of the changes that Rawlings-Blake mentioned was a change to the way city worker pensions are structured. "Baltimore’s pension system for civilian workers is the only large system in Maryland that doesn’t require any employee contribution," she said. "That must change." She also called for a 401(k)-style retirement plan for new civilian employees, a “hybrid” retirement system for new public safety hires, and a change in work hours for firefighters. Rawlings-Blake noted that out of the nation's 25 largest cities--a group that includes Baltimore--19 have firefighters who work longer hours than Baltimore's. "We must work with our fire unions to negotiate a new schedule—with significantly higher pay—to reduce inefficiencies and prevent the constant threat of firehouse closures."
Baltimore’s pension system for civilian workers is the only large system in Maryland that doesn’t require any employee contribution. That must change. - Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Detective Robert Cherry Jr., President of the Baltimore City police union, saw the sacrifices as unbalanced. "I think it was just an attack on fire and police. I really didn’t hear anything
else," he said. "They’re gonna change the pension system for new hires...I don’t know if that’s enticing for people to come join the fire department."
Another proposed change would require Baltimoreans to pay a fee for trash pickup. She also called for a reduction of property taxes by 22% over ten years. Many bemoan the city's high property tax rate, which is almost a full percentage point higher than the next highest jurisdiction (see chart at right).
City Council members were positive but careful. Carl Stokes of the 12th district said that he was not convinced that the forecast by PFM, which has done similar analyses for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, was accurate. Still, he was happy with the mayor's intent. "There is a stronger observation that some tough things have to happen across the board, and not just in pockets," he said.
City Council President Bernard Jack Young said, "I think it was a good speech. There’s some of the recommendations that the Mayor has that she hasn’t given us the details yet. So I’m gonna wait until I meet with the Mayor. And then after I meet with the Mayor, some of the stuff I know that I’m going to support, but the rest, I need more details."
Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that she will provide those details in the coming weeks and months.