Besides all the candidates, there are 11 questions on the city's ballot. Here is what they say, in English, with a little background and context. The first one is statewide. Questions A-J are just for Baltimore City.
Question 1: If the state Comptroller or Attorney General leaves office before her term is up, should the governor have to appoint his or her replacement from the same political party? Currently, he does not. If this question is approved, he will.
Question A authorizes a $6 million affordable housing loan. Years ago the city instituted an "inclusionary housing" ordinance with the idea of subsidizing the construction of housing for poor people. Developers were supposed to pay into the fund in lieu of building affordable housing. The city was also supposed to pay developers from the fund when they did build affordable housing. The fund has almost no money in it though, so it's moot. This question authorizes a taxpayer-funded pot of cash to make affordable housing happen. The proposed amount is peanuts: enough to for a few dozen units, tops. But it's something.
Question B is like Question A, but it's $34 million and for school construction. Voters may recall that in 2013, the city and state entered into a 10-year, near billion-dollar Baltimore school construction program, which is supposed to be funded by about $32 million of the normal annual state education allocations to the city plus funds from the city's bottle/soda tax. That 2013 program allocates about half of what it would take to bring the city's schools to adequate condition; so more money is needed. This $34 million is the same amount as voters OK'd in the 2012 election. [Planning Director Thomas Stosur emailed to clarify that these funds are not directed toward the billion-dollar school rebuilding plan (which we thought was clear): "The bond funds on the ballot are focused on the schools that are not part of Phase 1 of the 21st Century School Initiative," he writes. "There are a couple of major renovation/new construction projects and most of the funds will be used for systemic improvements, such as HVAC, fire safety, roofs, windows, doors, elevators, in schools that are not getting major renovations."]
Question C is $45 million to be borrowed for economic development, including industrial, commercial, cultural, and tourism. Four years ago this figure was $15.8 million. [Stosur points out that in 2014 this figure was $47 million, and in 2012 the figure was $42.8 million, but split between "Economic and Community Development ($24 million) "and another question for Economic Development ($15.8m)."]
Question D is $45 million in borrowing for the city's parks and recreation. In 2012 a similar measure passed, but only allocated $8 million. [Stosur corrects us again: as with C, above, the figure is more consistent with past allocations: $47 million in 2014 and $25 million in 2012—$8 million for parks and $17 million for "public buildings."]
Question E is a proposed charter amendment that would direct three percent of the city's tax revenue—currently about $31 million—toward children and youth services. It would create a special permanent fund for recreation centers, basketball leagues, tutoring programs, and anything else that could be linked to the well-being of children in Baltimore. City Council President Jack Young proposed it, along with an independent board to oversee the spending. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake opposes it.
Question F is literally like fixing a typo. The charter requires the Department of General Services to endorse every subdivision plat before it can be filed among the land records. But that duty was transferred to the Department of Transportation in 2014, so this amendment would substitute "Transportation" for "General Services." Democracy inaction!
Question G is to create new programs to grant preferences for small, local, or disadvantaged businesses in city contracting. The city solicitor says local preferences may be unconstitutional (PDF link here).
Question H would allow food carts and other small vendors to ply their trade near the Inner Harbor's Rash Field, where they are currently prohibited. Yes, really.
Question I modifies the audit schedule of city agencies that the council established a few years ago. It would mandate audits every other year and establish an Audit Oversight Committee to guide the auditor. As most are aware, the city's government has struggled mightily with the idea that agencies ought to be audited. Unlike normal cities, Baltimore did not audit some agencies (like Parks and Recreation and the Police Department) for generations, leaving open the idea that money may be being stolen. A vicious political fight in 2012 established an audit schedule for 13 agencies every four years, which the Comptroller's Office has failed to keep. This year the council moved to tighten up the loosely worded regulations, reduce the scope of the expected audits, and include 16 agencies on a biennial audit schedule. The Question I starts the clock again in 2017.
Question J would establish an "Affordable Housing Trust Fund" to be administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development (which is currently tasked with developing and maintaining affordable housing in the city) and a new 12-member commission. It does not include any funding mechanism (but maybe see Question A). Odette Ramos organized a petition to get this on the ballot. She is an activist and sometime candidate in the city's 12th District, and the founder and CEO of Strategic Management Consulting.