Baltimore City Council committee cuts $13 million from Pugh budget to free money for schools

A Baltimore City Council committee voted Friday to cut about $13 million from Mayor Catherine Pugh's budget proposal — including from key programs she has touted for months — to free more money for schools and after-school programs.

"This committee doesn't want to do this," Councilman Eric T. Costello, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, said of the cuts. "We want to get a deal done."

Council members have pressed the Pugh administration to use a $13 million surplus from the current fiscal year to provide $10 million more for public schools and about $3 million more for after-school programs next year.

Both schools and after-school programs are facing cuts in next year's budget. School officials already have laid off more than 100 employees to help close a budget shortfall.

Costello said Pugh's budget director Andrew Kleine wants to use the surplus money for the struggling city pension funds, which have millions in unfunded liabilities.

"This is extremely frustrating," Costello said. "Mr. Kleine, we have $13.2 million surplus. ... We have significant cuts to youth programs. That is a very irresponsible move."

Kleine said in an email that the surplus money is just a projection. If it materializes, he plans to use the suplus money to shore up the budget against a number of long-term issues, including potential retroactive pension payments should the city lose a lawsuit filed by the police union over benefits, the costs of taking care of the city's closed schools, and funding the mayor's committment to provide $90 million in increased money for the city schools over the next three years.  

Nevertheless, the council committee voted to cut some of Pugh's signature initiatives, including $1 million for mobile employment vans, $600,000 for new energy-efficient trash cans, $2 million from police administration, $2.7 million for debt for municpal trash cans, $6 million for paying down other debts and $435,000 in miscellaneous expenses in the mayor's office.

It was the second day in a row council members cut money from Pugh's budget in an effort to pressure the mayor to give in to their requests for more money for youths.

On Thursday, the committee stripped $2 million from the budget bill for the Bureau of the Budget and Management Research and cut $770,000 from the innovation fund. The votes were unanimous.

"Council wasn't kidding when we said we would fight for kids," Councilman Zeke Cohen tweeted just after the vote Friday. "Negotiation continues. Hope we can replace these cuts with surplus funds."

By law, the City Council has the power to cut from the mayor's budget. But only Pugh can redirect funds to new purposes.

Anthony McCarthy, Pugh's spokesman, said the mayor has been negotiating with the council.

"Mayor Pugh continues to follow the budget process with great interest," he said. "She believes there remains real opportunities for collaboration during these negotiations to resolve any budget impasse. She starts with the premise that both she and the council are focusing on what is best for Baltimore residents and the fiscal well-being of our city."

On Thursday, school system teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, assistant principals and support staff were informed they would lose their jobs. Administrators said they laid off 115 people in all, including the first classroom teachers in a decade, part of a plan to close a $130 million budget gap.

School officials say more money from the city could help prevent a second round of layoffs and allow them to call back some employees who were laid off in the first round.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said in a statement the council is "working hard to reach a compromise with the administration that will provide much-needed funding for important services that benefit Baltimore's young people."

In addition to $10 million more for schools, Young wants to restore $2.4 million in community school and after-school spending for the Family League of Baltimore. That money would give 1,000 youths access to participate in 20 after-school programs and 3,400 families access to participate in six community school programs.

Young also said he wants the freed-up money to go the Maryland Food Bank and the anti-violence Safe Streets program, which lost a key grant needed to operate.

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