Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake last night suffered one of the affronts that afflicts lame ducks – rebellion within the ranks.
A City Council distinguished by its docility voted to override the mayor’s veto of a plan to “ensure” that Baltimore’s children and youth “are healthy, are ready to learn and succeed in school, and live in stable, safe and supportive families and communities.”
And how to achieve those laudable goals?
The lawmakers voted to earmark 3 cents of every $100 of assessed value of city property to a “Children and Youth Fund.” (That’s what the bill says, although it’s been interpreted by some to mean 3% of the city’s annual discretionary spending.)
The fund would not be established until next year, and only if Baltimore voters approve the measure as a charter amendment in the November general election.
But the bill’s passage, two months before the April Democratic primary, will look great on the resumes of Council incumbents seeking a return to City Hall, including Nick Mosby and Carl Stokes who both want to occupy the mayor’s suite.
A Dangling Morsel
With such a tempting tidbit before them, the members thumbed their nose at the mayor, one after another.
There was no speechifying last night, only a roll call vote that took less than a minute. It was the first time the body had managed to muster up a mayoral veto in 34 years.
Back in 1982, the Council overrode William Donald Schaefer to give increased pension benefits to police officers and firefighters, causing runaway costs that still haunt the city, according to Rawlings-Blake.
No slouch herself when it comes to spending taxpayer or community development money on chosen projects (Grand Prix, Horseshoe Casino), the mayor has solemnly warned that allotting general funds for a specific purpose, no matter how worthwhile, “undermines sound financial management.”
The finance department at first estimated that the Children and Youth Fund would capture about $11.4 million in property tax revenues a year. But now the figure looks more like $30 million a year, according to the fund’s biggest backer, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“Prevention of Problems”
The city now spends $372 million a year for children and youth. Much of that goes to the public schools, plus maternal and youth health programs, library books and enforcement of child support payments.
Much of this money, in turn, comes from state and federal sources. (For example, the Board of Estimates will approve tomorrow a $602,242 state grant going to the sheriff’s department for child support enforcement. The feds will chip in another $1.17 million.)
In her veto message, Rawlings-Blake warned that the city faces a structural deficit projected to rise to $352 million by fiscal 2022. That’s dire, and also distant from the current election cycle.
Approving the new fund, the lawmakers gave the following guidance as to what it should do:
• “support families as an important part of the city population and civic culture.”
• “focus on the prevention of problems.”
• “enhance the strengths of children, youth and their families”
• “strengthen community-based networks of recreation and after-school services.”
• “ensure that children and youth with the highest needs receive maximum benefit.”
As far as the nitty-gritty about how the funds will actually be spent, the Council bill is inexact and enigmatic.
Other than calling for “gender responsive” services and “culturally competent” programs, the legislation leaves it to the next mayor and future Councils to hammer out what rules and standards will bring health, safety, stability and support to Baltimore’s young.