If you think that way, you’ll get stung. I’ve learned over the years: it’s in the wording.
Every bond issue begins by saying that they are asking us to “authorize the Mayor and the City Council of Baltimore to borrow [a certain dollar amount] to be used for the acquisition of land or property to” do something. Every bond issue ends with these words: “...and for doing all things necessary, proper or expedient in connection therewith.”
In other words, give us the money to do with as we like.
Consider, as an example, question B, which is asking for $43 million for the public schools.
We had plenty of good school buildings. Many of them were fully occupied, like Eastern High School. Rather than pay $3 million to fix the heating system, they closed that school, and many like it. Now they want $43 million to build new ones. And where are they going to build them? Whose block will get torn down to do that? Your house? My house?
They often say, “Oh, no, we’re going to renovate.” But that just isn’t true. How many of us have spent weekends painting our schools and fixing windows and cleaning up? They never fix up the schools. They let them fall into disrepair, then close them, then ask us for more money to build new ones.
A great many bond issues are meant to lead us to believe they’re talking about renovation, when, in fact, they’re talking about demolition or destruction of other kinds.
Many years ago, there was a bond issue to “renovate” the Lyric Theatre—and, in fact, question H in this election is asking for another $1 million for The Lyric. Well, in the prior bond issue, everyone was talking about how The Lyric had never been finished; how the original builders had not had the money to put on the fancy facade they’d wanted and that the money would be used for that. So, I voted “yes.” You can see plainly what they did. That is no archaic facade; they put on the front of that venerable theatre what I consider to be a modern monstrosity that's completely at odds with the original builders’ plans. And what will this million be used for? Buy up the block of buildings across the street and build a parking lot? Who knows? They never say specifically.
I voted for the library loan about 10 years ago or so, expecting renovation of the neighborhood libraries. What did we get? They closed five neighborhood libraries, tore down some historic buildings in East Baltimore, and built the “regional” library. There was a big fight about it, after we all figured out what they were trying to do. We saved two libraries, which did get renovated, but it took years. No one wanted or needed a regional library, but we’ve got one.
And then there are some loans which simply don’t make sense. For instance, the Baltimore Zoo, which is no longer the Baltimore Zoo. It was renamed The Maryland Zoo, because the citizens of Maryland were going to be paying for it. So...why are Baltimoreans being asked to pony up $300,000? You can’t tell from the description of the issue, that’s for sure.
And some of these bond issues are to help private nonprofits. People are losing their homes right and left to foreclosure, and they want us to secure loans for Port Discovery and Everyman Theatre, The Meyerhoff, and the aforementioned Lyric. What gives?
Bottom line: I will be voting “no” on all 16 bond issues, save for “F,” which is for public parks. I don’t figure they will be tearing down blocks of houses to put up public parks. Of course, I could be wrong. You can never tell, because they don’t really want you to know.
I would like, just once, for us to defeat all bond issues and force them to tell us really, truly, honestly, what they want the money for. This standard wording, which gives them carte blanche with $215.2 million of our money this year alone, is simply insufferable.
Lynda Lambert, a college instructor, writes from the Hampden community in Baltimore City.
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This story was published on November 3, 2008.