Carl Stokes: Baltimore’s Tax System Totally ‘Unfair’ to Residents
In the second of our series of in-depth interviews with 2016 mayoral candidates councilman Carl Stokes says the strategy of doling out huge take breaks to developers needs to end and a city wide tax cut for all residents put in its place
STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: Hello. This is Stephen Janis, and I’m a reporter for the Real News Network in Baltimore. As part of our coverage of the 2016 mayoral campaign in Baltimore we are interviewing all the candidates in depth. Today we interviewed Carl Stokes about tax policy, education, crime, and safety.
We spend most of our money on policing. Much less on education. What do we need to do–do we need to take funds from policing and put into education for the long-term benefit of the city?
CARL STOKES: Well, absolutely. We should look at public safety as a much larger matter, and interrelated in ways that we don’t seem to understand now. We take a third of our budget, we give it to policing. We take 11-12 percent of our budget and give it to education, and we give even less to recreation and to environment for young people, jobs, after-school activities, et cetera.
Well, I think most of us realize that if we would do better by education, do better by young people and after school, that we would have much less of a public safety issue going on. And so obviously we should take some of the funds and redirect them. We’re not taking from police. We’re redirecting public safety funding to places that make the most difference.
JANIS: Well you know, people say, but we have crime. We have crime that we need to do something immediately. How are you going to sell that vision, that really, you know, putting resources into things other than, than criminal justice will actually bear fruit later in terms–will actually solve the crime problem?
STOKES: Well, I’m not saying we kick policing to the side. I think we have to do better by that. For example, we have a 30 percent homicide clearance rate in Baltimore City. Well, that’s horrible. Because obviously we’re letting the people who are doing most of the killing continue to be on the streets to do more killing.
So I think we’re going to have to ramp up that division, and may have to bring in other people, or give the people who we currently have better resources, or more resources, so that they could have a much higher clearance rate than the current abysmal one that we have. I think we do have to do good aggressive policing. We have to put police who are out on the street, walking the neighborhoods, knowing who everyone is in the neighborhood, good and bad. Knowing the businesspeople, knowing the situations as they see them in the community. I’m not saying that we close down the police department by any stretch of the imagination. But I think that we have to direct our resources to those things that would bring us the better results, like taking people off the street who are repeatedly committing homicides and other crimes.
Look, here’s a statistic. We have the second-highest per capita number of police officers in the United States of America. We have the highest, by far, per capita homicide rate in Baltimore, in the United States of America. Probably can throw in Europe and Canada and Mexico, too. But having said that, obviously just a strategy of policing does not bring us public safety. Someone said that 15, 16 years ago in this city arrested hundreds of thousands of mostly young, black males. And it didn’t work at all. All it did was disallow them to get Pell grants to go to college, to disallow them to, to get jobs in the city. Disallowed them to get home ownership in our city. It is a horribly wrongheaded approach to it.
JANIS: Now, on to tax policy. You’ve been a big critic of TIFs. TIFs has been the main sort of instrument of development in the city. But what can we do to create a more equal tax system? Are TIFs the answer to the tax problem in the city, which is that the taxes are just higher than everywhere else?
STOKES: So, I wouldn’t say I’ve been a critic of TIFs. I’ve been a critic of, of using TIFs without community redevelopment happening also, or community benefit happening. We’ve given a couple of wealthy developers hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits and tax benefits, and it has no ramification for the community which is just four, five, six blocks away from these big developments. The community continues to suffer. We see poor schools, high crime, vacant properties, unaffordable properties. And yet we give these tax breaks to a few people who pretty much do their own sort of little private project, per se.
I think two things. One, we ought to use tax breaks for greater community reinvestment. That’s the one thing. The second piece of it, I think everybody, all property owners in the city, should get a tax break. I think it’s totally unfair. The city recognizes that our tax rate is way too high, and because they recognize it they offer these tax incentives to people who want to do development in town. But also, they only offer it to the bigger developers. They don’t offer it to the smaller, community-oriented developers who are doing five or six homes in a community. That’s not who they offer it to.
And so I think if we get an even playing field by reducing dramatically, I say by 50 percent in the next five to eight years, reducing by at least a dollar our tax rate in Baltimore City.
JANIS: So another thing that’s been controversial, you had a hearing about this, was the public housing scandal at Gilmor Homes and the state of public housing. One thing we talked to–your opponent Sheila Dixon said people have to be ready to move out, because it’s not permanent housing. But what do you think needs to be done to fix our 11,000 units in public housing that are across the city?
STOKES: Right. Well, first of all, leadership has to change, in terms of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. We know from witnesses, too many witnesses to deny, that people in high places in the housing authority knew that women were being harassed sexually.
JANIS: So are you saying that Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano must go?
STOKES: Yes. I think that housing leadership must go. Not, not just him, but leadership there. I think a complete overhaul needs to be [done] over there, because I absolutely believe that supervisors below the top were aware of these allegations. And I think that they did not act on these allegations, that they allowed the same maintenance people to keep their jobs and to be on the jobs, and to be in these situations where women were harassed constantly. Not just a couple of times, but it was ongoing . And it didn’t happen just at Gilmor Homes, it happened at least three other places, this has taken place.
JANIS: One of the controversial issues last year that actually ended up having an impact on the city later on was lack of reform of the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, and lack of reform in policing in general. Do you support, now there’s going to be–the mayor looks like she’s going to introduce something that will cut the–make certain changes. Do you support reforming the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights, and any other reforms [inaud.].
STOKES: We have to reform that reform. Because, you know, police officers shouldn’t have greater rights than a citizen. They should not. It seems unconstitutional, even though we do have this division of rights. We have our rights as Americans. We have a judicial system that works fairly well, if all things are equal.
In this case, things are not equal. If you have–and victims who are, don’t have the same rights, allege perpetrators who are innocent until proven otherwise don’t have the same rights. They can be questioned immediately without a lawyer. If they ask for a lawyer they can get one. But they don’t have ten days to think about what their story is going to be. They don’t have ten days to corroborate with other people what their story is going to be. It doesn’t make sense. It–they don’t get to see the evidence. I’m not sure that in those ten days that officers are not being made aware of the evidence that is already out there.
I don’t want the officers to be treated unfairly. They, too, are innocent until proven otherwise. But I don’t think that they should be treated with more rights than the average citizen.
TAYA GRAHAM, TRNN: The national media is basically saying that Baltimore is a tale of two cities. Do you have one specific policy that you would like to enact to help address poverty and some of the inequities that we see in Baltimore?
STOKES: Yeah. Again, that’s an interrelated question. There is no one policy, there is no one thought we can do. I think we have to address the issues of public safety, of schools. Huge. And, and certainly because the schools have been so bad for so long in the city, we have to entrust, address, young adults who are now out of a bad school system and still don’t have skills, still don’t have adequate education, to get a job that will sustain them or sustain their families. I think we also have to find a really good way to allow people to reentry, to re-enter, into society, because we took them out of society by arresting hundreds of thousands of people for doing nothing but sitting on their own front steps. And I think that we’ve got to relieve them of the burden that we’ve put on them. And so it will begin to move our city.
And then we’ve got to make sure economically that African-Americans in this town, I’ll just say that, begin to share in the wealth of the city. And that it’s not in the hands of just a few people in this town, and that we don’t continue to just pour money into a few people in this town and it never comes back out into the community, black, white, or brown, but particularly the African-American, because they’re the community that is most down at this moment.
JANIS: Great, thank you.
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