On Thursday night, members of Communities United’s Youth Organizing Leadership Academy (YOLA) gathered in Harbor East to demand corporations who receive millions of dollars in tax breaks each year pay their taxes like the rest of us.
“Say no to corporate greed,” Community United’s Steven Merrick yelled.
His chants bounced off the glitzy glass buildings of Harbor East neighborhood and were repeated back to him by the crowd of 20 or so.
“Stop stealing from our kids,” Merrick added.
The group stood between the Under Armour Brand House and the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel in Harbor East for a protest focused on how tax money not collected from corporations such as Under Armour and Marriott would help fund Baltimore City schools if were collected.
“I came because I’m tired of looking at cracked paint on the walls and broken chairs, broken tables,” said Shakerra McDonald.
“I’m here because I pay my taxes and I make less than $20,000 a year, I honestly don’t make a whole lot of money and big corporations make tons, millions of dollars—probably even billions—a year,” said Olivia Smith. “That’s not ok. And I want to be heard because I haven’t been heard in a very long time and it’s time to speak up.”
And Communities United came with research. They stress that Under Armour reported its pre-tax profits in 2017 at $157 million, did not pay any state taxes that year, and received $8.3 million in state tax credits.
That’s not to mention the historic Tax Increment Financing (TIF) the Under Armour-adjacent Port Covington project receives. A report in July by ProPublica revealed that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan used a mapping error to get “Opportunity Zone” status—usually reserved for poorly funded areas of the city in need of support—for Port Covington. Currently, Under Armour is the subject of a federal accounting probe.
Communities United also explains how Marriott International’s cumulative profits for 2016 through 2018 were $7 billion while financial disclosures show the company paid no state taxes. During that same 2016-2018 period, Marriott received $287 million in Maryland tax credits.
While Under Armour and and Marriott get millions in tax breaks, the Kirwan Commission found Maryland’s schools are underfunded by $2.9 billions of dollars every year. The commission has said that Baltimore City needs to increase its local contributions by $300 million by 2030 for its schools to be adequately funded.
“We cannot fund Kirwan if we don’t close corporate tax loopholes and improve our upside-down tax system,” said Communities United Executive Director, Jane Henderson. “The top one percent in Maryland pay the lowest tax rate—that ain’t right.”
Communities United’s Tia Downer has a child who attends Sandtown Achievement Academy, a school Under Armour helped renovate for the 2019-2020 school year with a $250,000 grant. Downer stressed that while donations are appreciated by the community they do not make up for not paying taxes.
“I am thankful that Under Armour makes charitable donations to some of Baltimore’s schools. At my child’s school, they recently funded the renovation of the gym,” Downer said. “But charity does not replace them paying their taxes. Under Armour and Marriott need to pay their fair share.”
Under Armour’s net worth is around $2 billion, which means that $250,000 grant is .0125% of the company’s wealth.
“I’m tired of seeing youth like us being overlooked every freaking day. I’m tired of being treated like I’m a little man,” Community United’s Kuijuan “Woogie” Jackson said. “I’m tired of always having to struggle to make ends meet when people like this get to eat whatever they want. I’m hungry.”
The group marched throughout Harbor East chanting “Tax the rich, fund our schools,” and “Stop stealing from our kids.” At one point, police ordered the group—who were primarily marching on sidewalks—to disperse. They did not.
On the bull horn, Communities United’s Henderson and Jackson discussed the terms of Kirwan and taxation in front of the crowd.
“The Kirwan Commission has recommended a 4.4 billion dollar annual increase in school funding, to be phased in over the next 10 years, our schools need it. That works out to be about two million dollars a school. Imagine for your school, what that could mean,” Communities United Executive Director, Henderson said to the crowd.
“We need a lot of work,” Community United’s Jackson said, interjecting. “It’s a start but nah, I’m not happy with that.”
“On average. Some schools would get more. Schools that need more are supposed to get more,” Henderson explained.
“Do we ever get what we need?” Jackson said, laughing.
“Well that’s what we’re fighting for,” Henderson said.
Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly called the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront “Marriott Four Seasons” on first mention. The Beat apologizes for the error.