Baltimoreans approve ballot measures fending off water privatization, creating independent inspector general and more

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

The election is over, Larry Hogan has been re-elected to a second term as governor, and Democrats still dominate the General Assembly and Maryland House delegation. There were few surprises last night in the city—with the exception of 32 percent of Baltimoreans backing the Republican incumbent for governor over Ben Jealous—but there were some big changes approved as ballot measures.

With 97 percent of precincts reporting as of this morning, voters overwhelmingly backed Question F to establish an independent Inspector General’s Office, free from the purview of the mayor’s office and provided with its own annual budget. Councilman Ryan Dorsey, who sponsored a bill that put the question on the ballot, celebrated its approval as a bipartisan win.

City voters approved Question H, which calls for the creation of a public financing system for elections, as is used in Howard and Montgomery counties and, soon, Prince George’s County. That likely wouldn’t actually take effect until 2024.

Question E, which would add language into the City Charter precluding city officials from ever privatizing the municipal water and sewer systems, similarly passed with 77 percent approval from voters. Rianna Eckel, Maryland organizer for the water-rights advocacy organization Food and Water Watch, dubbed it a “momentous” win for the city, particularly with lobbyists having lingered around City Hall pitching privatization plans in recent years.

Unlike with the inspector general ballot measure, Question G has placed control over an existing office within elected officials’ purview. Two-thirds of voters went “for” the question, which allows the mayor, city council president and comptroller to appoint and remove the head of the city’s Department of Legislative Reference, which helps lawmakers draft bills and serves as custodian of city documents.

Some have complained that this could threaten the department’s independence and potentially undermine the city’s Ethics Board, where the director of legislative reference also serves as a chief adviser. Mayor Catherine Pugh’s charter review commission had recommended the change earlier this year.

Question I, approved by 80 percent of voters, would create a new city fund to address inequity across the city, including in housing and public education. Lawmakers will still need to set up a system to fund it. Councilman Brandon Scott, who first fielded the proposal earlier this year, tweeted in celebration, “Baltimore can only be a better place when it works for all and not some.”

And Baltimoreans also backed four bond bills allowing the city to borrow up to $10 million for affordable housing, $38 million to construct or maintain school facilities, $47 million for economic development programs and $65 million for recreational space and public buildings in future years. Those appropriations would still need be approved by the mayor and city lawmakers in the annual budget.

Statewide, voters approved questions that will allow many Marylanders to register to vote on the same day as an election—a change pushed by Democrats to increase voter turnout, and that has drawn concerns about voter fraud from Republicans—and to dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues from gambling to public school systems.

While casino money for schools was a selling point when Maryland began allowing casinos to set up a few years ago, investigations have found the money isn’t really benefiting schools.

Ethan McLeod
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