$30 million youth fund in Baltimore? Not so fast

Does Baltimore's proposed youth fund really set aside $30M for young people?

For a year, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has pushed for a charter amendment he says would set aside about $30 million of Baltimore's budget for youth programs.

But Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who opposes the measure as fiscally irresponsible, has maintained that the proposed youth fund would contain just $11 million.

So, who's right?

The short answer: The mayor.

Young's calculation is based on his belief that the charter amendment — which voters will consider in November — would require the city to dedicate 3 percent of its discretionary spending to the youth fund.

The discretionary spending in the city's budget is more than $800 million. If it increases to $1 billion over the next few years — a big if — that would mean 3 percent would equal $30 million.

The problem: That's not what the bill actually says.

The legislation calls for 3 cents out of every $100 of the city's assessable property to be set aside for youth programming. It says nothing about discretionary spending in the budget.

The latest estimate of the city's assessable base is $37.9 billion. That means $11.4 million would go into the fund.

The legislation also permits the fund to collect grants and donations, so the amount could increase.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, argued that officials can debate the size of the youth fund, but not its importance.

"The bottom line is you're still seeing a multi-fold increase in funding for youth," he said. "There's a discrepancy in the numbers. We'll iron that out later. The bigger, more important point is we're making a direct investment in the lives of young people."

Baltimore voters will cast ballots about whether the city should authorize the youth fund during November's general election. The fund's money would be distributed as grants to local groups working with children and teens. The body that would be in charge of distributing the grants has not yet been created.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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