Baltimore leaders, students to rally for proposed youth fund

The Baltimore Sun
Voters will decide in November whether Baltimore should mandate spending on youth programs.

Baltimore City Council members, leaders of nonprofits and students rallied Monday in support of a November ballot initiative that would force the city to spend more on youth programming.

The event, the first major public event in support of the measure since it was placed on the ballot in February, was organized by the nonprofit The Intersection and drew about 75 people to the group's East Baltimore headquarters.

Kayhla Logan, 17, told those assembled that the proposed Children and Youth Fund was "for the greater good."

"It goes toward the whole community as a whole so we can bring Baltimore back," the Mondawmin resident said.

If Baltimore citizens vote in favor, city government would be required to funnel millions of dollars each year into a new fund benefiting programs for children and teenagers.

While the City Council is unanimously supportive, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is opposed, calling the mandated spending a threat to the city's fiscal health.

Council members Brandon Scott and Bill Henry were present Monday evening to support the proposal, which requires voter approval on Election Day because it would change the city charter.

Scott said he wanted to hear how the assembled children and teenagers thought Baltimore's money ought to be spent.

"I'm tired of 65-year-olds telling me what 15-year-olds want," Scott said. "I want to hear it from the 15-year-olds."

After some opening remarks, the assembled crowd broke into discussion groups. The Intersection's executive director is Zeke Cohen, the Democratic nominee for Southeast Baltimore's 1st District City Council seat.

Waverly Carter, director of youth programs for Banner Neighborhoods, said children and teens tend to act badly when they do not have access to the resources that youth programs supply.

"Once we start putting our faith and money into our future, we can start expecting a different outcome," Carter said.

The City Council approved legislation in January to create the ballot question. Rawlings-Blake vetoed the bill in February, calling it bad policy.

The council voted 15-0 later that month to override Rawlings-Blake's veto, sending the proposed charter amendment to the November ballot. It was the first time since 1982 the City Council had overturned a mayoral veto.

A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

The city's finance department has estimated the proposal would provide about $11.4 million a year for youth programs, though the council has projected funding would be about three times that amount. The bill does not specify how the city would pay for the mandate.

The finance department "strongly opposes" the legislation, according to a letter city finance director Henry J. Raymond sent to the City Council. He said his department is worried the bill "begins to undermine sound financial management" and "puts core services at risk."

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young introduced the bill last September. Young believes there is "overwhelming support" among voters and said the fund was much needed and long overdue. The unrest that followed the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody last spring made the need clear, he said.

Young said it is a yearly battle with the city's administration to maintain funding for youth programs. Mandated spending would solve that issue, he said, and would help resolve many of the city's larger problems.

"If we don't take care of our children, they will be today's criminals, not tomorrow's criminals," Young said. "Anything for our youth, that's what I'm all about."

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