Governing for the People
Friday Oct 11th, 2013
Originally posted in The Rawlings-Blake Review, Issue #179
The ongoing federal government shutdown has had a real and negative impact on our country. A partisan battle over our nation’s budget has ground our national government to a halt.
But at the local level, there is no time for drawn-out political battles to stop government from performing its basic duties. In local government, the only choice is to act, because failure means real and immediate consequences for your city. At the end of the day, everyone involved understands that there is an obligation to act when people depend on you to govern. You simply have to roll up your sleeves and get the job done. And in Baltimore, we seeing genuine benefits from the ways in which our governments are working for the people.
For example, to families who have struggled to find access to quality and affordable healthcare, the new federal Affordable Care Act means new options to access the healthcare they need. It means no longer having to fear bankruptcy because of a loved one’s illness or having to choose between putting food on the table and buying medication. And that’s outstanding news for more than 80,000 Baltimore citizens who have lacked healthcare access.
A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly 80% of Americans favor the benefits provided by the Affordable Care Act: health insurance exchanges, subsidies to help individuals purchase insurance, and the expansion of Medicaid—benefits that will help to insure families across Baltimore.
I encourage you to spend some time finding out for yourself what this law can do for you. Don’t listen to naysayers who would base their opinions more on politics than on what the legislation can do for low-income and middle class families. Take time to visit the website or speak with a professional who can help you make the best choice for you and your family.
In local government, positive reforms are happening as well. Earlier this week, I shared a series of steps that my administration has taken to reduce tax credit errors in Baltimore City. These errors, many of which occurred over ten years ago, have frustrated tax credit recipients and caused residents to lose confidence in government. I share those frustrations, and I realize how upsetting these errors can be. I want to ensure that city government is giving Baltimore’s citizens the most accurate information possible—particularly when it comes to their finances.
I was determined to not have my administration kick the can down the road and let another ten years go by before this problem was addressed. We have worked diligently and proactively to identify errors, and through the Billing Integrity Unit that I established, we have put mechanisms in place to crack down on mistakes. In just three years, the unit has identified more savings for Baltimore ($15 million) than was lost over the previous 10 years due to errors. Just this year alone, we have identified more than 1,300 errors.
I believe that these measures will go a long way toward building confidence in the City’s ability to provide correct tax bills and show hard working residents that my administration will not rest until the system is dramatically improved. Leveraging automated technology and more advanced techniques, the reforms will greatly reduce the possibility of tax errors caused by human mistakes and ensure that recipients get the right bill for their property.
In response to the original tax credit errors two resolutions were introduced in the City Council asking the administration to consider privatizing tax calculations and collections and to conduct an audit of the City’s tax programs.
I'm not opposed to audits; audits happen all the time in government. In fact, audits were taking place over the last 10 years—yet they still failed to fix this problem. While I share the Council’s concern and look forward to working with them in partnership to continue improving the system, we must give the reforms that have been put in place a chance to take full effect first so that Baltimore’s citizens will know if our reforms are heading in the right direction.
At the same time, we should be looking for areas where additional improvements can be made. Working together with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, I know we can continue moving forward on critical improvements that the citizens of Baltimore deserve.