Answers from Catherine Pugh
Senator Catherine Pugh has been a public servant for over 15 years. She served as a member of the Baltimore City Council, representing the 4th district (1999-2003). During her tenure as Council Member, Senator Pugh served as: Chair of the Taxation Subcommittee on Economic Development, Vice-Chair of the Land Use & Planning Committee and member of the Urban Affairs Committee. In 2005 she was appointed to the Maryland General Assembly, House of Delegates, where she served for one year before running for her Senate seat in 2006. Read more.
Do you believe that the City property tax rate is a deterrent to attracting new residents and businesses to locate in Baltimore City?
If you answered "yes" to Qt. 1, what is your strategy for reducing the tax rate?
As Mayor, I will continue Baltimore’s existing property tax reduction plan which has resulted in a 14 cent tax reduction and will likely result in a 28 cents tax reduction by 2020. I will create a Property Tax Reduction Commission (PTRC) to recommend economically viable means of achieving meaningful property tax reduction. The PTRC will determine the feasibility of using revenue generated from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects returning to the tax rolls to offset current property taxes.
The PTRC will examine multi-level property tax rate assessment strategies similar to Washington, D.C., where higher tax rates are applied to blighted, unoccupied properties. We will create special tax districts that assess properties at a lower rate to spur development in blighted communities, and promote innovative housing.
Similar to San Francisco’s new Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone we will offer tax incentives to vacant lot owners for turning their empty lots into urban farms. The tax break will be limited to a predetermined amount.
It is my goal to reduce the property taxes in Baltimore to a rate that is competitive with our surrounding jurisdictions.
Given the inequity between what residents pay in real estate taxes and corporations and nonprofits do and don't pay, what is your plan to reduce the disparities in property taxes so that everyone pays their share in keeping the city financially solvent?
PTRC will employ the best professionals available to help us evaluate a variety of tax strategies and determine the best taxation strategy for Baltimore City. This office will evaluate tax reduction strategies, tax incentive schemes, and identify specific taxing disparities in Baltimore City. I will work with the City Council to create a more appropriate taxation strategy for Baltimore city residents, businesses and nonprofits that are equitable, fair and maintain the solvency of City’s finances.
Would you consider increasing taxes on vacant property, while lowering them on occupied property? Can you be specific?
Absolutely, in fact, I plan to evaluate the practices of Baltimore Housing and review the standards set for Landlords in our City. A vacant property registry will be maintained and updated to insure all properties vacant for more than 90 days are registered. A task force will be created to develop guidelines and penalties for failure to comply. Properties in the registry will be required to pay a fee, or if the task force determines, may be taxed at a higher rate to ensure maintenance of property code standards.
Describe your vision for our ten year financial plan?
In 2012, the citizens of Baltimore overwhelming approved Question M to complete performance audits for each of the 13 departments of the city within 4 years time. So far we have just one of the thirteen audits finished. Until the audits are complete it is hard to figure a ten financial plan for the city. But once the audits are complete and the budget is scrubbed I will present a detailed plan for the financial health of the city. At the same time, I want to acknowledge the legacy of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on improving our finances. She entered office facing a daunting fiscal deficit and has done a good job of improving our city’s credit rating. We now have a AA Bond Rating from Moody's and Standard & Poor’s. The stronger our credit worthiness, the more projects we can develop at a lower cost. I want to continue to build on this fiscal strength and make Baltimore a more financially sound city.
How would you propose compelling the City Schools Administration to do a top-to-bottom overhaul of its operating inefficiencies?
As Mayor, I intend to take greater responsibility for our school system. The inefficiencies created by the lack of oversight from the City and the State, each passing the buck to the other will end with my administration. My first order of business is audits, including financial, performance and facility audits. I will insist upon a zero based budget approach for each department, making each budget item have to earn its way into the priorities that will be funded using evidence based results.
Explain the role of charter schools for Baltimore. Do you think charter schools help the City retain families who do have the resources to relocate to other jurisdictions? Please explain.
Charter schools provide parents and students with choices. While I am an advocate of great public schools, I do understand the desire for parents to have choices in their child’s education. Charter schools provide options to parents who simply will not choose Baltimore City Public Schools as their primary resource for educating their children. However, as Mayor, I will transform our public school system to increase academic success for Baltimore children, provide professional development for our teachers and implement strategies that increase graduation rates of students who are college and work ready.
Describe, with specific examples, how you would expand and diversify the city's economy.
The goal of every new Mayor should be to run faster than the previous administration after understanding where we are and to know what is working and what is not. For example, under this administration according to the latest data our property tax has been reduced by 14 cents and will surpass its goal of a property tax reduction of 20 cents by 2020, and could likely reach a 28 cents property tax reduction over that period. There is a lot to do and this Mayor will focus on moving our city forward.
What is your strategy to boost neighborhood commercial business districts and small businesses? Is there specific red tape to be cut?
As the owner of retail store in Pigtown I know we can do better for our small businesses. So many small businesses fail in the first two years of existence. They open a small store and there is no foot traffic to drive business. I would work with small businesses to have several stores open on the same street at once. The city can coordinate and provide support services to assist all of them in their growth. By being an ally to our small businesses we provide the goods and services that neighborhoods need to thrive and grow.
What would be your plan to address the city's vacant houses and abandoned lots?
I am in favor of restarting the dollar house program of William Donald Schaefer, where you agree to live in the house for five years and spend money to improve its condition you take ownership of the home. We should also look to do this on a large scale where an entire block is upgraded all at once. We can have a lottery where any resident who wants to purchase a home goes into a lottery and we build out an entire block at once. Every month we can do another block. With neighborhoods being repopulated there will be incentives for small businesses to new stores and services to new residents and longtime residents eliminating food deserts. Our goal is to erase the blight of vacant homes from our city, increase our tax base and revive our neighborhoods that have been abandoned for too long.
What do you propose to do with city owned buildings, such as schools, offices, public works, yards, etc. that are no longer needed or in service?
As Mayor, I will ensure that there is a property database of city owned properties. The complete list will then be audited to determine the value and best and highest use for each facility. A task force made up of community and business leaders will work with me to determine how to handle surplus properties. I will work to develop a plan to put vacant buildings in communities that are out of service back online as a resource for communities most in need. As Mayor, I will insure that a future plan is developed for closing schools and city owned building prior to ending their use so properties are not left vacant without consideration of their best use and contribution to the community prior to closing.
Which City agencies are in the greatest need of reform and what specific reforms to do you have in mind?
The Transportation Department just based on its audit needs the most work. But that is just one of the thirteen audits we voted to complete by December of this year. We are woefully behind. We must scrub the budget of all agencies before a competent answer can be given. As for an example, one only has to look at the Transportation Department having a bike plan that dates back to O’Malley Administration and it has yet to be acted upon. In Housing I believe the time has come for new leadership in our housing department. I will begin by separating the Department of Housing & Community Development and the Housing Authority of Baltimore City which will allow each entity to focus on its’ own mission with greater effectiveness. I will conduct a thorough audit of each and will call upon housing experts to evaluate the validity of privatizing some public housing. It is important that the city control some of its public housing to assure that those who do not have access to housing are accommodated in a fair and equitable way.
What would be your first priority to reduce crime in the city? Please specifically address violent and property crimes separately. What administrative reforms that you would prioritize for the police department?
As Mayor, I am not seeking to run the police department; rather, I intend to provide the support, resources and technology necessary for officers to do their job. I will hold them accountable for implementing strategies that protect our communities and reduce crime. Having met several times with our Police Commissioner I have confidence in his ability to lead our department. I believe the policies that he is implementing will create cultural diversity and restore confidence and trust in our officers while serving our communities. We will establish a culture of transparency and accountability. This is consistent with the approach that President Obama has proposed and the state Policy Work Group that I co-chaired.
Working with the Commissioner, I submitted SB638, which would increase penalties for possession of a loaded handgun. We both agree there are too many illegal guns on our streets; many were involved in the deaths of 344 people last year.
Let’s enhance the Citizens on Patrols, Neighborhood Watch and Safe Streets Programs.
I will work cooperatively with the State’s Attorney’s office to further combat crime. I will establish an Office of Returning Citizens to help reduce recidivism; and partner with the State to eliminate barriers for ex-offender re-entry. I will work to strengthen the powers of the Civilian Review Board and set measurable goals for the Mayor’s Council on Criminal Justice. As Mayor, I will focus on taking care of our officers by establishing a tuition assistance program and increase opportunities to live in our city.
What will you do about Baltimore's aging infrastructure from old sewers to bridges and roads and water lines?
We have almost $5 billion in pent up infrastructure needs in the forms of schools, roads, bridges, mass transit, recreation centers, parks, sewer lines and more. Fixing the infrastructure of Baltimore will take money, time and effort but it can be done. I was part of the successful effort to secure $1 billion in new school construction funds in 2014 from the state. The backlog of infrastructure needs is an opportunity to employ city residents in skilled trades as well as fix the city. Back here the Department of Public Works has been under a consent decree since 2002 to eliminate the overflow of raw sewage into the Jones Falls and Inner Harbor. They missed their most recent deadline, even with money from higher fees on residents. They are now asking for more time to fix the problem. We need to get the right people running Public Works who will use our money wisely and efficiently so the aging pipes we have paid to be upgraded are finished and sewer overflows are a thing of the past. No one should have to fear a sudden downfall of rain will result in flooded basements. We need to audit Public Works and fix our sewer lines.
What specific strategies will you use to increase the City's population, and specifically to attract and retain such expanding population groups as millennials and immigrants?
Baltimore’s population has dropped from nearly a million to 620,000 over a few decades. The fastest growing populations are 18-35 and 55 years and older. Who is missing and why? The 36-54 year olds: who are raising children and preparing them for school. They are missing because they have no faith in our public schools to prepare their children for work or college. While we have been awarded through our collective effort a billion dollars to build new public schools it is incumbent upon this Mayor to assure that curriculums in our school systems are as competitive as any other jurisdiction. That is my first pillar.
I have Five Pillars that are the foundation for Baltimore. Go to my website: www.PughForMayor.com /issues for a detailed look at the plan. My Five Pillars are: Education, Public Safety, Economic Development and Jobs, Quality of Life, and Accountability and Transparency.
Having a high crime rate is another element that forces people to leave a city. Thus putting in crime strategies that will reduce neighborhood crime is essential. Our 30,000 boarded up houses represent an opportunity to increase population by offering incentives and a lower property tax rate. Attention to Quality of Life Issues including Health, Housing, Lightening, Transportation, Taxes, Environment, Infrastructure and Image can increase population.
Baltimore the home of the “Star Spangle Banner” is also home to the “Wire” a popular crime television show shot in Baltimore in the early 2000’s. It has become synonymous with Baltimore.
Between “The Wire” and the windows of the world viewing our city during the unrest the impression that has been left is that Baltimore is a violent city. I will bring together the best and the brightest to create a comprehensive marketing campaign to rebrand Baltimore as a place to live, work and play. We will celebrate Baltimore with events like the Light Festival that will attract thousands of people to our city.
Finally we need to be accountable and responsive to the needs of our citizens and do this in a transparent fashion. This is how I will help to grow Baltimore.