Political Power Struggles Hurt Baltimore Communities

April 20, 2017 by Christopher Meyer in Blog

Freddie Gray died two years ago yesterday while in police custody. As anger, unrest, and litigation made Baltimore a fixture in national headlines in the aftermath, one positive development seemed likely to come from this tragic event: a renewed commitment in Annapolis to invest in communities like the one where Freddie Gray lived and died.

Two years later—and one year after the passage of a $290 million aid package intended to improve Baltimoreans’ access to housing, education, and jobs—more work is needed to secure this commitment. The budget proposal released by Gov. Hogan in January cut more than $30 million from the investments promised last year to Baltimore and precarious communities elsewhere in Maryland. Although the General Assembly subsequently restored much of this funding, it should never have been politicized in this way to begin with. Next year, the governor should commit in advance to fully fund the aid package, which would allow local officials to make informed planning decisions. Lacking this commitment, the General Assembly should fully restore any cuts to these urgent investments.

The 2016 reinvestment package passed by the General Assembly—which the governor allowed to become law without his signature—designated $290 million to be spent over five years on priorities like education, housing, and community development. Most, though not all, of the funding was intended to go to Baltimore. Some of the major components of the package include:

  • $7.5 million in annual funding for extended school day and educational summer enhancement programs.
  • $5 million in annual funding for mentoring and scholarships for low-income students who in middle school or early high school agree to pursue a college education.
  • $3 million in annual funding to extend operating hours at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
  • Funding for adult education, including programs offering high school diplomas and a program offering construction training.
  • $12 million in annual funding for the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative, which supports projects to attract homebuyers, rehabilitate vacant homes, improve existing business properties, improve the energy efficiency of older buildings, and develop mixed-use properties and community open space.
  • $5 million in annual funding for the Seed Community Development Anchor Institution Fund, which provides loans to institutions like universities and hospital for community development purposes in blighted areas.

In combination with efforts to repair the relationship between Baltimore’s police department and the city’s residents, this funding has the potential to be a meaningful step forward. Investments in improving neighborhoods mean jobs today and stronger communities tomorrow; high-quality educational programs mean kids get access to an enriched environment today and good jobs tomorrow; and the accompanying economic activity benefits local businesses.

But all of this is possible only if promised investments materialize. Gov. Hogan’s budget proposal zeroed out funding for educational programs and scholarships and extended hours at Enoch Pratt Free Library, in addition to cutting $14 million for housing and community development programs. Thankfully, the General Assembly fully reinstated the library and scholarship money, as well as funding for housing and community development, and partially restored the extended day and summer school programs. Still, these political games injected needless uncertainty into Baltimore officials’ planning processes and ultimately cost $2.5 million in urgently needed investments.

Next year, policymakers in Annapolis should put aside power struggles and instead make the sustained investments needed to strengthen communities in Baltimore and across Maryland. For Gov. Hogan, this means stating in advance that he will fully fund the aid package passed last year. For legislators, it means committing to restore any shortsighted cuts in the governor’s budget.