Mayor's budget predicts failure, youth advocates say
Julie Scharper reports:
Scores of children, teenagers and young adults expressed concern about Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s spending plan at a public meeting Wednesday evening, saying it devoted too much funding to stopping crime and not enough to activities for young people.
“Tonight, I stand to challenge you to match our dollars with the ideal that we can protect our children’s future instead of predicting their failure,” said LeVar Jones, a staffer with the advocacy group Safe and Sound.
“When I look at the budget, it makes me wonder if you even think it’s important to fight for youth like us,” said Isaac Cobb Jr., 17, of Harlem Park. “It seems like our own mayor doesn’t even believe in the citizens of Baltimore City, especially our youth.”
The young and their advocates were among about 80 people who attended “Taxpayer’s Night,” an annual event hosted by the city’s Board of Estimates to solicit comments on the mayor’s preliminary budget.
Rawlings-Blake trimmed $65 million from the city’s $1.29 billion operating budget to balance expenditures and revenue. Overall operating spending would grow by 1 percent from last year’s spending plan.
“This is tough budget, but, with no new taxes, it’s also a smart budget,” said Rawlings-Blake before inviting residents to comment on the plan.
The budget fully funds the city’s obligation to city schools, provides for 300 police officers to be hired to fill vacancies and increases funding for some technology initiatives.
Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that additional allocations from the state would allow all branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library to maintain their current operating hours.
Mayoral spokesman Ryan O’Doherty said that an additional $1 million would be added to the library system’s $21.9 million budget. The city received about $6 million more from the state than the $88.4 million that finance officials had anticipated, he said.
Many of the 80 people who attended the meeting expressed displeasure with the city’s spending priorities.
Community activist Leo W. Burroughs Jr. noted that Rawlings-Blake had increased funding for the Baltimore Convention Center and the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, but cut funds for the Department of Recreation and Parks and summer jobs for youth.
Burroughs said officials should solicit business leaders to help fund the Baltimore Grand Prix and the War of 1812 commemoration and use the money Rawlings-Blake would allocate for those events to support youth employment.
“You need to show the leadership to provide those jobs,” he said. “Use your creativity as leaders to figure it out.”
Many young people said they were concerned that city leaders were supporting the construction of a youth jail, while cutting funding for recreation programs.
“I’m devastated that my brother and sister are not able to go to rec centers, but you have all these jails you’re building for us,” said Shamar Dixon, 13.
O’Doherty, the mayoral spokesman, wrote in an email that Rawlings-Blake’s budget funds many youth inititiatives despite the tough economy.
“Juvenile homicides and shootings declined 35% during the Mayor’s first year in office and she is making important investments in public safety programs and youth services to continue that progress,” he wrote.
Mayoral challenger Otis Rolley, who attended the meeting, said Rawlings-Blake’s budget priorities were “off-kilter.”
“They’re off-kilter because we’re not investing in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We’re investing the way we always have and we’re going to get the same results — a loss of population and a loss of jobs.”