Most suburban residents live in a metropolitan district in order to share the good things the city can offer. Sadly, we enjoy those benefits without paying a proportional share of their costs. Whether we use the urban setting for employment, or as a cultural, commercial, educational or recreational base, we rely on the city for income, entertainment, improvement and often much more.
While many contribute voluntarily – as major supporters of cultural institutions, educational and health resources, sports and the arts – the large burden of support services remains on the city’s tax base. The resources we use disproportionately are the very ones from whom the city receives no tax income – tax-exempt facilities like hospitals, universities and museums.
To provide cities on which suburbanites rely with appropriate recompense, several methods have been proposed and used elsewhere; none have gained widespread approval in Baltimore. A commuter tax places the burden directly on those who earn their income in the city – reasonable, perhaps, because it places the burden directly on those necessarily in the city for hours every day. But it doesn’t account for those who come to the city for other reasons. Some form of metropolitan taxation must be the long-term answer, but is unlikely to be enacted any time soon. In the meantime, inner cities struggle with deficits and decaying infrastructure.
My question: Can those who dwell in Baltimore County and other adjacent counties – who recognize the injustice of the current system – help the city face its ongoing budgetary problems? Can we help the city maintain the services and facilities on which we, living outside city limits, nonetheless depend? How can we do our share within current financial constraints, and do so without putting in place regulations that could, in the long run, encourage the flight of business from the city?
My idea is to establish a Fund for Baltimore to which county residents could voluntarily contribute a sum roughly based on the difference between their current real estate taxes and the taxes they would pay were the city’s rates to apply to their assessments.
Although this sounds like a simple enough proposition, there would be many organizational challenges. Who would manage it (a foundation? the City Council?) Who would have a voice in its distribution (the Mayor’s office? the donors?) This proposal is made with full knowledge that it asks the generosity of those few who understand their civic responsibility; the vast majority of the population may feel no reason (or be unable) to take part. The size of the gift – indeed, the entire idea – would be voluntary, with the real estate concept only one possible benchmark. But the process could at least begin to establish the premise that those who live in the counties acknowledge their debt to the city, are invested in the city, and feel some responsibility to finance a small portion of the services and infrastructure they so liberally accept. To wait until a long term solution is found is to miss the needs of today. I believe it is worth a try.