Baltimore on a path to Bankruptcy: Stadiums and Super Bowl Rings didn’t save Baltimore


Editor’s note: Baltimore has endured many of the same problems that Evansville has including a shrinking population, declining wages, and a large number of vacant houses. Baltimore preceeded Evansville in throwing taxpayer dollars into temples to sport subsidizing stadiums for both the Baltimore Orioles baseball team and the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Baltimore even doubled down on hospitality subisidizing hotels, restaurants, and other retail space in a big harbor project. As pretty as the structures are even with sell outs and world championships to show for it Baltimore is still failing financially. Why? Jobs, Lifestyle, Public Safety, and Infrastructure were neglected to get the party started. Can Evansville afford to continue to copy failed cities? Can the United States?

About the Situation in Baltimore:

The Baltimore is on a path to financial ruin and must enact major reforms to stave off bankruptcy, according to a 10-year forecast the city commissioned from an outside firm.

The forecast, shows that the city will accumulate $745 million in budget deficits over the next decade because of a widening gap between projected revenues and expenditures.

If the city’s infrastructure needs and its liability for retiree health care benefits are included, the total shortfall reaches $2 billion over 10 years, the report found. Baltimore’s annual operating budget is $2.2 billion.

The report was prepared by Philadelphia-based Public Financial Management Inc., a consulting firm that has prepared similar forecasts for Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the District of Columbia. Baltimore’s decision to commission the forecast differs from those cities because each of them had already ceded financial oversight to the state, or in the district’s case, the federal government.

The forecast will provide the basis for financial reforms that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake plans to propose next week. The city has dealt with budget deficits for the past several years, closing a $121 million gap in 2010. But those deficits have been addressed with one-time fixes that haven’t addressed the long-term structural imbalance.

“When you have budget after budget and you know that there are systemic problems, I felt an obligation to do more than what we have done in the past,” Rawlings-Blake told the AP. The forecast, she said, shows that the city needs to address its financial woes “before it’s too late, and somebody is coming in and making these choices for us.”

That’s what happened to the District of Columbia, 38 miles to the south, in 1995 after the city reported a budget deficit of $700 million. Congress created a financial control board that instituted tight spending controls and ultimately took over all hiring and firing in nine city agencies. The spending cuts, combined with a robust regional and national economy, drove the nation’s capital back into the black.

Not all municipalities have been so fortunate. In late 2011, Jefferson County, Ala., filed the nation’s largest-ever local government bankruptcy, citing $4.15 billion in debt, and last year, Stockton, Calif., became the largest American city to declare bankruptcy.

In Baltimore, the erosion of the tax base is easy to see. The city’s population has dropped from a peak of 950,000 in 1950 to 619,000 today, and while the decline has slowed, there have been few signs of the trend reversing. The median income is $40,000, and 22 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, according to Census data. The city also has 16,000 vacant properties.

Baltimore already has the highest property taxes in Maryland — twice as high as in neighboring Baltimore County. The city’s local income taxes are the highest allowed under state law. While the city enacted some new taxes to deal with the 2010 deficit — including taxes on bottled beverages and higher hotel and parking levies — city officials say they can’t tax their way out of the problem without driving away residents and businesses.

“We’ve got to go from a vicious cycle to a virtuous cycle. That starts with a good, stable fiscal foundation for the city government,” said Andrew Kleine, the city’s budget director. “When you’ve lost so much population and the tax base has shrunk, it’s very difficult to deal with.”

If the city chose to use its reserve fund to cover the deficits, the fund would be empty in three years, the report found.

“Quite simply, a status quo approach is not financially sustainable,” the report says.

In 2010, the mayor’s office released a “doomsday” budget that would have meant firing police officers and closing seven fire stations, among other cuts, and some criticized the move as a tactic intended to soften up the City Council to approve tax increases.

But officials say the new forecast doesn’t envision a worst-case scenario. It assumes modest economic growth nationwide over the next decade, said Michael Nadol, a management director at PFM and a lead author of the report.

Rawlings-Blake said the report was intended to be an honest assessment.

“It’s not like we’ve had rosy budgets over the past five years, and now we’re screaming that the sky is falling,” she said.

Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, became mayor in 2010 after Sheila Dixon resigned as part of a plea deal for stealing gift cards donated to the city for needy residents. She was elected in 2011 and has nearly four years remaining in her term.

Health care benefits for retired city workers will be a major drag on city finances in the future, according to the forecasts. The city still faces increasing pension costs despite a recent restructuring of the pension plans for police officers and firefighters.

Like many cities, Baltimore doesn’t factor the escalating future costs of retiree health care into its annual budgets, and if that doesn’t change, the city will be on the hook for another $300 million in 10 years, the report found.

While city officials declined to specify how they would address the shortfall, they said some restructuring of the retiree health plan would be necessary.

The forecast cost the city $460,000. PJM won the contract through a competitive bidding process and subcontracted some of the work, including actuarial analysis.

Shayne Kavanagh, a researcher at the Government Finance Officers Association, said the group recommends that city governments engage in long-term financial planning, but few have taken that step.

“Most government budget practices are one-time, year-by-year affairs,” Kavanagh said. “What Baltimore’s doing is trying to integrate a longer-term perspective.”


  1. Is Linzy running the show today? This is going from being a good public policy site to a libertarian bulletin board. There is not one single mention of M&T Bank Stadium OR Camden Yards OR First Mariner Arena in the article posted. Only the editor here mentions them.

    There is however mention of a declining tax base which is due to urban flight in and around the area around Baltimore. In fact, the urban sprawl is so bad around Baltimore NASA can see it from satellite…

    It also mentions out of control pension costs which appear to be almost a third of the problem.

    Baltimore paid a little over 200 mil for M&T Bank Stadium which is actually a good deal when you consider the fact that they got one of the largest NFL stadiums for just 75 mil more than a 10,000 seat arena here cost. It’s paid for itself many times over. And the three sources of revenue were..

    State revenue bonds
    Baltimore Ravens State lottery funds
    Stadium Authority revenues

    None of that came from Baltimore. And I for one am quite satisfied with the development that has gone up around Camden Yards (most notably the warehouse and the Inner Harbor). I always found something to do after leaving the facilities. The private sector has responded in a big way to these developments and they should be commended not scolded for this.

    Why do stadiums and arenas keep getting blamed on here but out of control infrastructure that creates more sprawl which increases the size of the city/county enormously never get called out?

    • Jordan, what needs to be called out are people like you who think money grows on trees. You look around at blight on private property and want to run crying to government to fix it, well guess what…that will cost money, money we don’t have because it’s being spent elsewhere on stuff like FDP homes, hotels and dog parks. And don’t tell you you opposed the dog park as evidence of your fiscal responsibility either, because your suggestions would have cost just as much money. YOU, Sir, are part of the f*cking problem.

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