Mayor Catherine Pugh's first State of The City address promised more school funding and a forensic audit of police overtime, an independent monitor for the Department of Justice decree, a stronger police civilian review board, more opportunities for minority businesses, and more job opportunities for youth and "returning citizens."
It was an optimistic speech, seemingly built on the idea that things are going to work out just fine even if they don't look so rosy right now.
On the city's battle with Gov.Larry Hogan over a $130 million school funding gap, Pugh said, "I am confident that we will see that help in our state budget around March 20."
Pugh marveled at the speed the DOJ's consent decree was hammered out, and said the police department is looking up: Only 46 people applied for jobs at BPD last January, while this year 157 did.
In the 100 days since Pugh was sworn-in there have been 83 murders in Baltimore City, a pace well beyond that of last year. She said nothing about this.
Pugh promised a fall job fair to be held by city government, thanking Mary Talley, the city's director of human resources, for putting that together. She promised "mobile units" that will take job training and job listings to the people who most need them. She wants seven such units, which she said cost $350,000 each. "If we achieve 25 percent of that goal—between jobs, training and services—we can change the trajectory of our city," Pugh said, reading from a teleprompter. "I want you to know today that we have a commitment for three of those units."
In her first State of the City Address, in 2010, Pugh's predecessor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, took on property taxes in the seventh paragraph of her speech. She touted a lowest rate since the 1970s and promised not to raise rates even in the face of the Great Recession.
Pugh did not mention taxes until the third paragraph from the end of her speech. And then it was in the context of the city's ongoing problem with abandoned buildings. "We are researching the establishment of a Redevelopment Authority and the concept of providing housing and ownership opportunities with a lower property tax model to eliminate the number of boarded-up houses in our city while increasing homeownership and building on Vacants to Value by accelerating its mission and creating a Renters Tax Credit Program while expanding affordable home ownership programs in our city," the mayor said.
It's kind of a run-on afterthought, and odd for a city where, despite some reductions, property taxes are still double the state average, and vacant buildings are collapsing with regularity. Two days ago a church collapsed on Greenmount Avenue. This sort of thing happens every time winds gust above 45 mph.
City Councilman Zeke Cohen (1st District) said he thinks Pugh's focus on schools is right. "If we want to increase our tax base, we need to improve schools," the former teacher said. "When people in my district leave the city they say it's because of the schools, first, and then crime. Taxes are way down on their list."