Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s State of the City Address


Mr. President, Members of the City Council, friends and colleagues in government, faithful clergy, people of Baltimore, thank you for the opportunity to report to you on the state of our City and to share our vision to move Baltimore forward.

Mr. President, I want to congratulate you on your first year as the leader of this important body. We have worked together, confronted many challenges and crises and made progress on the key issues that matter most to Baltimore's families.

To all Members of the Council, thank you for your leadership representing the people of your individual districts as well as your sincere desire to do what is best for the City as a whole.

As can be expected, we have had spirited debate amongst each other from time-to-time, but we have always done so with proper civility, and none of us has ever questioned each other's deep love and commitment for this great city we serve together.

Before we go any further with a discussion about the future, we must honor those in the recent past who gave themselves to public service as police officers.

The deaths of four police officers over such a brief span of time took a tough toll on our City. We celebrated their lives of service with family and friends and honored them with funerals fitting for their life's good deeds. Officer James Fowler, Officer Thomas Portz, Officer Brian Stevenson , Officer William Torbit, Jr. Today, please join me for a moment of silence to honor these great men.

Their lives inspire us to be better humans, to do more for friends and neighbors, to never be satisfied with the status quo and to demand progress toward a better life in the City.

A great spirit of compromise, respect, and civility enabled 2010 to be a year of change and progress for Baltimore even during tumultuous and difficult times.

Together, we closed the worst budget deficit in our City's modern history. A deficit equal to a 36 cent increase in the property tax rate. We did so while fully funding our obligation to City schools and maintaining every single police officer and firefighter-all without raising property taxes by one single penny. We cut salary expenses in the Mayor's Office by 13%, reduced city vehicles and consolidated city agencies to cut costs and save money. Together, with our dedicated City workforce and citizens, we confronted the fiscal challenge with honesty and shared sacrifice. These tough choices included pain, but they were necessary to keep Baltimore moving forward.

Together, we worked to restore trust and faith in City Government by implementing the most significant improvements to our City's ethics code in many years, by restructuring the ethics board to make it more independent, by closing loopholes and by increasing ethics training for Cabinet members and staff. These tough improvements were not always popular with political insiders, but they were necessary to help restore confidence in city government.

Together, we confronted a pension plan that was underfunded, out-of-control, and on the verge of total collapse. We did so by making the changes necessary to secure a dignified retirement for Baltimore police and firefighters that the City could afford. With this plan in place, their pension system will become healthier sooner, and funded faster while saving City taxpayers $800 million over the next ten years.
This year, despite a $121 million dollar deficit, we made the largest contribution ever, over $101 million dollars, to the police and fire pension system. And now, for the first time in decades, we can look every police officer and firefighter in the eye and tell them the truth: yes, your retirement is more secure and it will be there when you need it.

Today, by making these tough choices, the state of our city is stronger.

Better Schools:

2010 will go down as the most transformative year in the history of the Baltimore City Public Schools since Brown v. Board of Education. A grueling nine-month collaborative effort between the school administration and the Baltimore Teachers Union resulted in one of the most progressive and reform-minded teachers' contracts ever ratified in the nation.

Even the Washington Post took notice, lamenting that it was unfortunate the film 'Waiting for Superman' was released before Baltimore's contract was approved.

As a mother of a public school student, I was proud to join our school CEO Dr. Andres Alonso and the Baltimore Teacher's Union's Leadership, Marietta English and Lorretta Johnson. Joining us today to represent BTU is Kenya Campbell, chair of the New Teachers Steering Committee. Thank you Kenya for all your hard work getting the contract approved.

In the face of a troubling initial rejection, it was a great honor for me to fully support this national model.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that Baltimore is not 'Waiting for Superman' to improve our public schools. We have super men and women in the classroom, making a difference in the lives of our students. They are not waiting for anyone. They are fighting every day to make Baltimore stronger.

I'm particularly proud of the members of the Baltimore Teachers Union for their commitment to change and progress for Baltimore.

With millions of federal education dollars on the line, Marietta English and BTU leaders understood that reform was coming and that more teachers and families would come to demand it. They understood that it was the way forward for our City.

They had a choice. The BTU leadership could fight for their members at the negotiating table, in good faith, for the benefit of teachers and students...or they could posture, score short-term political points, and do little to improve public education.

As forward-thinking, visionary leaders in America's labor movement, they made the right choice and did what is best for students and teachers over the long term. They fought for their members, and now teachers in Baltimore are getting the highest starting salary in Maryland and a more competitive pay scale.

Today we are proud to say the Baltimore Teacher's Union is a partner in progress for our schools. Because of this partnership, new teacher applications in Baltimore have doubled for next year. Now more than ever, City Schools are attracting and retaining the best teachers for our students.

I would like to thank all the members of the school board for their leadership. The National School Boards Association selected Baltimore as the winner of its annual award for Urban School Board Excellence. They said the Baltimore City Public Schools are a "shining example that school reform can work." Please join me in thanking School Board Chair, Neil Duke, who is here with us today.

Dr. Alonso. Where do we begin with you? First, let's change your name to Dr. Progress. According to the New York Times, Dr. Alonso is the leader of a "laboratory for urban school reforms," and his experiments are delivering results for students. Dr. Alonso and I share a simple philosophy: We set high expectations and we refuse to let children-regardless of race or class-slip through the cracks of low expectations.

When you stop making excuses, when you put students first, and when you fight for progress, here's what happens:

To continue this progress, I ordered a budget overhaul for services that support the mission of our school system. While City Government does not directly control the schools, nothing should prevent us from doing a better job aligning city services to support our school system's mission of improving student achievement.

This year, for the first time since City Schools became an independent agency, we worked collaboratively with the Schools to align city services in the budget with shared goals for students, including increasing proficiency in reading, reducing dropouts, and increasing student attendance-because students can't learn if they are not in the classroom.

The budget realignment for 'Better Schools' maintains full funding of the City's obligation to public schools. And, despite an $80 million deficit this year:

And Finally, today I'm announcing the creation of a new Mayor's Youth Cabinet to better coordinate the City's collective resources and services for children. The Cabinet will also focus on leveraging state, federal, foundation, and private funding to enhance outcomes for our youth. I am proud that Dr. Carla Hayden, head of our great Enoch Pratt Free Library System, will serve as chair. This focus, this fight, will help make Baltimore stronger in the coming years.

Safer Streets:

As our schools are making great progress, Baltimore is becoming a safer city to raise a family. In 2010, homicides reached their lowest level since 1985, when William Donald Schaefer was Mayor. Gun homicide is down 13%, juvenile homicides and shootings are down 35%, and overall gun crime is down 16%, that's 498 fewer victims of gun crime than in 2009.

I want to thank all the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department for their continued focus on illegal guns and the violent criminals who use them. In 2010, our police officers took over 2300 illegal guns off the streets.

The sad truth is that our Police Department is achieving these record results with one hand tied behind their back because of inadequate state penalties for gun criminals. Our current laws are weak and support a culture that tolerates illegal, loaded gun possession.

Today, we are joined by three heroes whose story crystallizes the need for tougher state penalties for gun offenders.

It was just after 1:00 am on a cold November night when Officer Todd Strohman, a one-year veteran, confronted a man he believed to be carrying a gun in the heart of downtown Baltimore. Then, without warning, the suspect produced an illegal, loaded gun and shot Officer Strohman in the chest. Officer Strohman showed remarkable bravery by directly confronting an armed suspect.

Today, I would also like to recognize Lieutenant Scott Mezan of our SWAT team who responded quickly, administered first-aid, and drove Officer Strohman to Shock Trauma as well as Officer Kurt Yourkovic of our Community Stabilization Unit-both of your actions helped save Officer Strohman's life.

This incident should never have happened. The armed suspect, Franklin Gross, was a violent, repeat offender who should have been in jail. But because our laws and criminal justice system show too much tolerance for gun crimes, he wasn't in jail; he was back out on the streets, committing gun crimes over and over again.

Franklin Gross has been arrested 10 times - five of those arrests involved illegal guns. He was charged for the first time with using a handgun in a violent crime, and like so many other first time gun offenders, he served ONLY two months in jail. After committing a number of other crimes, Franklin Gross was arrested in 2005 for an armed robbery with a gun and another gun crime that he committed in 2004. He was sentenced to 12 years, but six were suspended. On November 10th, 2010 he got out of jail, and just 17 days later, on Thanksgiving weekend, he went downtown with another illegal gun and shot Officer Strohman in the chest.

This is not justice. It simply should not be allowed to happen. This story is the story about why Maryland legislators must act now to enact tougher penalties for illegal gun possession. Mark my words, and remember them - we will not back down until the legislature joins us in this fight against criminals and their illegal guns. In no uncertain terms, this fight is a matter of life and death.

My administration is sponsoring two state bills aimed at cracking down on gun offenders who, under current laws, are serving little jail time. Our message is simple - we will not tolerate illegal guns. Under these bills, if you are carrying an illegal, loaded gun, you will not receive a slap on the wrist--you will go to prison. Under current law, even though 44 percent of homicide suspects have prior gun arrests, the average misdemeanor gun offender is back out on the street after spending only four months in jail.

Enough is enough. I am urging everyone--business leaders, community leaders, and everyday citizens who care about the future of Baltimore--to join me in Annapolis for this cause. We can stop the revolving door of justice, continue to reduce gun violence in Maryland and keep our police officers safe when they patrol our neighborhoods.

We will continue our fight in Annapolis, and we will continue to make investments in public safety our top priority.

This summer, public service journalism shined a light on a dark and shameful statistic: In the last decade, the Baltimore Police Department recorded one of the highest percentages in the country of rape cases deemed "unfounded."

Commissioner Bealefeld and I refused to respond to this painful revelation by pointing fingers and blaming previous administrations. Instead, we took responsibility and took action. Today, we are joined by three of our partners in this effort. Debra Holbrook, from Mercy Hospital's SAFE Nurse program, Rosalynn Branson, the Executive Director of TurnAround, Inc., a Sexual Assault/Domestic Violence Center, and Deputy Major Clifton McWhite, head of BPD's Special Investigations Section.

They are here today as members of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) led by my Office on Criminal Justice. This team, led a transparent process to conduct a full audit of sexual assault complaints and a review of police training and investigative practices.

This unprecedented review led to numerous reforms that have forever changed and improved the way sexual assault cases are investigated in Baltimore, ensuring that future victims of sexual assault will have their complaints investigated fully and are treated with dignity and respect.
But it's not enough to simply acknowledge mistakes of the past and reform our own practices; we have an obligation and a duty to share what we have learned with other Cities. The SART team will continue its work and will create a new national model for investigating these crimes and responding to victims of sexual assault.

Please join me in thanking Ms. Holbrook, Ms. Branson, and the entire SART team for their dedication to this issue and their exceptional public service to the citizens of Baltimore.

Violence against women will receive a renewed focus from my administration. Last year, there were over 20,000 domestic related police calls for service in Baltimore. In order to reduce domestic violence, we have partnered with House of Ruth Maryland on two important initiatives.

One is to create Maryland's first supervised visitation center for families with histories of domestic violence and sexual assault. This center will be a safe place where families can conduct court-ordered supervised visitation.

We have also built a strong partnership with House of Ruth to spot high risk domestic violence situations and swiftly offer shelter, advocacy, and other services to victims. In its first year, House of Ruth advocates have screened over 2000 domestic violence cases and made contact with over 1000 victims. 300 victims received services from House of Ruth because of this new partnership.

Next week, I will sign legislation to increase funding for domestic violence shelters in Baltimore.
I would like thank the entire City Council for moving this bill forward.

From our work with House of Ruth, we have learned that domestic violence leads to domestic homicide and community violence. Last year, 42% of suspects charged with murder had a history of engaging in domestic violence. Even more troubling, 25% of last year's murder suspects had histories that included both domestic violence and gun crimes. There is a real connection between domestic violence and gun crime that we need to address.

We must do more to identify these violent offenders who terrorize their families and their neighbors. We must get them off the streets before they kill a loved one or community member. Therefore, I plan to launch DVStat. DVStat will bring together police, prosecutors, victim service organizations, probation officers, and others to create a stronger system-wide response to repeat abusers.

Our joint goal will be to reduce violence in the home and in the community.

Stronger Neighborhoods, Growing Economy:

A solid foundation of improving public schools and reductions in crime allows us to do the important work of lifting-up our neighborhoods and creating the new jobs of the 21st century.

To strengthen our neighborhoods, we are confronting one of Baltimore's most pressing and stubborn challenges. Vacant houses are more than just an eyesore. Just ask someone who lives next door to one. They pose a serious public safety and public health threat to our citizens, and they depress the value of surrounding homes.

With a renewed housing department, we launched Vacants to Value to spur reinvestment in our neighborhoods by:

Most importantly, we took a fresh look at getting our own house in order-getting the red tape and bureaucracy out of the way so that we can efficiently dispose of City-owned vacant property... and get it in the hands of those willing and able to renovate it.

We are targeting code enforcement efforts with a new, tougher citation method that will pressure absentee landowners and speculators to do a cost/benefit analysis and either reinvest in their properties or sell them to someone who will.

This new strategy will require renewed engagement from the community. This Thursday, we will begin the discussion by hosting a Vacants to Value Summit with national experts, community groups, business leaders, and housing officials. This is the beginning of a new effort, not the end.

As we reinvest in our neighborhoods, City Government will also look for new ways to support job creation for the future. Baltimore's economy remains strong and is poised for growth, even in this tough environment.

Just a few weeks ago, our friends at Under Armour announced plans to buy and expand their urban campus at Tide Point, making a firm, lasting commitment to Baltimore. The site at Locust Point was once a detergent factory. Today, it has been transformed to house a global leader in high-performance apparel. This example shows us how a city can reinvent itself for the 21st century.

In this coming budget, I will propose to increase funding for our Emerging Technology Center (ETC) Incubator program. To date, ETC client companies have received over $1 billion in funding and have been issued nearly 200 patents.

We estimate that these companies have created in excess of $270 million in economic activity for Baltimore. Despite the budget deficit, we will also fully fund our City Career Centers to help City residents find jobs and get prepared and trained for new employment.

To make our economy and city stronger, I have asked our private sector partners at the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore to join with the Baltimore Development Corporation to develop a strategic plan to create jobs in emerging industry sectors and position our city for business expansion.

We will also restructure BDC into three core focus areas: real estate development; expansion, retention and attraction of business including small business; and retail and commercial development in neighborhoods beyond downtown. BDC will also hire a new consultant to serve as an economic development financial czar to help move more projects to completion.
A Ten-Year Plan for Baltimore:

Families and businesses across America and in Baltimore, on their own, are beginning to adapt to a new economic reality, cutting costs in corporate and household budgets. At home, families are reducing credit card debt and putting more money into savings. These tough choices have come about because of the global recession, and they have forced us as individuals to deal with the economic reality of our times.

But, and this will not come as a surprise, many Governments have been slower to face this new reality. Here in Baltimore, we have rejected the idea that government should be held to a standard different from families and businesses. Here in Baltimore, we recognize that things that made sense 10 or 20 years ago do not work today. We know, as families and businesses know, that we must face reality, tell the truth, tighten our belts, and make tough choices.

It will not be easy, but it is necessary to survive and move forward. To suggest otherwise would be unrealistic and irresponsible.

Baltimore has a long-term structural deficit. Revenue growth is not enough to keep up with the costs of providing basic services. The real estate boom and short term gains in city revenue masked the effects of this imbalance. Cities put off tough challenges and failed to prepare for the day of reckoning.

Well, that day of reckoning is here. The Great Recession has exposed fiscal vulnerabilities at all levels of government and ushered in a new reality, some have called it "the new normal." During this period, government revenues will recover slowly, while costs will continue to grow faster than inflation. That may seem cruel and unfair, but it is a fact that we must confront. Otherwise, we will turn back the clock and go into reverse as a city and community.

Here are some numbers that must be addressed:

Today, the City spends $250 million annually on employee and retiree health care benefits. These costs have grown more than 35% since 2003. This includes over $80 million in annual prescription drug costs. Retiree health care costs alone have grown more than 43% in six years. In addition, the City contributed a record $163 million to its pension funds this year, more than triple the cost in 2003. Employee Healthcare costs continue to grow even as our workforce gets smaller. Taken together, we spend more on these employee benefits than we do on our entire Police department.
Let me repeat that, so the point does not get lost today or at any time: Baltimore spends more on employee benefits than we do on our entire Police department.

If we bury our heads in the sand and fail to deal with this fact, public safety will suffer...our economy will suffer...and Baltimore will fall backward. As your Mayor, and as a lifelong resident of our city, I refuse to accept failure.

To address these long-term challenges, and to help us adapt to the new economic reality, I am proposing to create a first-of-its-kind 10-year financial plan for Baltimore. The plan will help us create clear long-term budget priorities, improve cost-effective delivery of core city services, and help establish a pro-jobs and pro-growth tax structure for Baltimore's future, including a path towards reduction in property taxes.

The plan will likely call for tough choices such as benefit changes for City employees and retirees, including some that we have already begun to implement. The plan could also include difficult consolidations of some city services. These choices cannot be ignored, and all options must be considered.

Together, as a city and community, we will answer these fundamental questions. How do we keep core services like public safety, public schools and sanitation fully-funded? What programs can we live without? What can we afford to spend on benefits for employees compared to what we spend on direct services to citizens? And, how do we reduce our reliance property tax revenue?

We will answer these questions with honesty and transparency, and if we are faithful to our oath of office, we will not demand a tax cut one day and then denounce a service cut the next day. Our vision, our plan, and our solution will be rooted in telling the truth and making tough choices.

Some may irresponsibly choose to ignore and mislead on these fundamental questions, especially when discussing property tax relief. A real vision for the City begins with treating the people of Baltimore with honesty and respect. If it sounds too good to be true, it isn't true. If we fail to put truth before politics, Baltimore will fall backward. And that is unacceptable.

A City that lives on falsehood and false promises is a City that's dying.

A New Way Forward, Change and Progress:

But let's be clear, tough choices and honest talk are not "mindless austerity." When we make across-the-board cuts just to get to a number, we will dilute the good, effective programs along with the bad, ineffective ones.

Responsible austerity means that we remember and protect the most vulnerable in our society-including our lowest paid City workers and our struggling neighbors. Responsible austerity means that we protect the effective programs that enable us to make progress, and improve the core, fundamental duties of government.
That's why we use outcome budgeting: To focus resources on the priorities we can't live without, the areas where we must make progress, and to demand the results our citizens deserve. We will use this process to confront this year's deficit, cutting costs first.

Tough economies and tight budgets should not be used as an excuse to stifle innovation and limit compassion. Towards that end, today I am announcing three new initiatives that will help Baltimore adapt to "the new normal."

From this point forward, Baltimore's roughly 60,000 drug dependent citizens will no longer be treated as a civic liability; instead, our family, friends, and neighbors in recovery will be a treated as potential assets to this great city. We will launch Baltimore's Recovery Corp initiative.

This volunteer initiative will identify, recruit, train, and place 100 individuals who have successfully sustained recovery from drug addiction for at least two years into volunteer positions as recovery advocates in treatment centers throughout our City. These advocates will establish working relationships with people in treatment and convey to them that treatment works.

The Recovery Corp initiative will bring recovery advocates and people in recovery into the community as a force for positive change and progress through service projects like creating community green spaces. I look forward to outlining the details of this new initiative in the next several weeks.

To ensure that Baltimore's government is as innovative and creative as its people, this year, for the first time, we are creating a new $1 million innovation fund that will be used to make short term investments that will deliver long term savings and better results.

Already, 18 different City agencies have submitted over 30 proposals to make government better and smarter. These proposals are currently being evaluated and ranked, not by government insiders, but by a committee of accomplished business and community leaders. I will personally review them and announce the winning proposals soon.

Finally, we will continue our strident efforts to eliminate and publicly expose fraud, waste, and abuse in City Government. Many of you have read the investigation reports posted online by our new Inspector General-he's been busy.

We will continue to strengthen our efforts to go after "bad apple" employees and contractors who are giving the overwhelming majority of dedicated workers and reliable contractors a bad name.

We will hire an additional auditor in the Inspector General's Office, and we will create a new, innovative rewards program that incentivizes reporting of fraud and abuse.

Today, more than ever, we face a crossroads.

We can make choices that serve the greater good, put us in a better position for the future, and that honestly confront real challenges. Or, we can make choices to serve ourselves, choices that leave us worse off than before, choices that deny trust and truth.

As Mayor, I'm choosing to head down the straight-talking, no sugar-coating path toward change and progress for Baltimore. I am asking everyone in this great City to join me. This path is guaranteed to have bumps, obstacles, and even hardships, but if we stay strong and stick with it, it will take us where we need to go.

Thank you, and God bless Baltimore.