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Mayor Rawlings-Blake's State Of The City Speech
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February 12, 2013
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. WYPR’s Bret Jaspers reports from City Hall.
Bret Jaspers: In a report that cost the city 460 thousand dollars, the consulting firm, PFM, said that even though Baltimore currently has a balanced budget, expenditures will consistently outpace revenues and lead to a cumulative shortfall of more than 7 hundred and 40 million dollars by 2022. Still, in her address, the Mayor was optimistic:
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake: 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.
Jaspers: She trumpeted the city’s reduced rate of violent crime, as well as her role in convincing the railroad company CSX to build—with some state money—a new intermodal facility in Baltimore. But many awaited Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s financial proposals, one of which was a change to the way city worker pensions are structured.
Rawlings-Blake: Baltimore’s pension system for civilian workers is the only large system in Maryland that doesn’t require any employee contribution. That must change.
Jaspers: 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: Among the 25 largest U.S. cities, including Baltimore, 19 fire departments have work schedules exceeding ours, with a median work week of 52 hours. 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.
Jaspers: Detective Robert Cherry Jr., President of the Baltimore City police union, saw the sacrifices as unbalanced:
Detective Robert Cherry Jr: WelI think it was just an attack on fire and police. I really didn’t hear anything else. 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.
Jaspers: But it is unclear how much money these changes would save the city in the long run. The Mayor mentioned increasing worker salaries. And another proposed change—requiring Baltimoreans to pay a fee for trash pickup—was coupled with a call to reduce property taxes. City Councilman Carl Stokes said that while he was not convinced that the forecast by PFM, which has done similar analyses for Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, was accurate, today’s speech was a good first step.
City Councilman Carl Stokes: There is a stronger observation that some tough things have to happen across the board, and not just in pockets.
Jaspers: Others Council Members chose a wait-and-see approach. City Council President Bernard Jack Young.
City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young: 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.
Jaspers: Mayor Rawlings-Blake said that she will provide those details in the coming weeks and months. I’m Bret Jaspers reporting from City Hall for 88-1 WYPR.
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