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Rawlings-Blake briefs L.A. officials on Baltimore's budget

FinanceBudgets and BudgetingStephanie Rawlings-Blake

Los Angeles has Hollywood, two pro basketball teams and some of the country’s best beaches.

It’s also the city with the third highest gross domestic product in the world.

But leaders in the West Coast city say they’re envious of the fiscal cuts Baltimore has made in recent years – and are hoping to replicate them.  

Los Angeles Budget Director Matt Crawford traveled to Baltimore Wednesday to meet with city officials here.

Crawford and his team met with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, city finance director Harry E. Black and budget chief Andrew Kleine to discuss Baltimore’s approach to budgeting, the city’s 10-year financial plan and the CitiStat system that tries to hold agencies accountable for their performance.

“You guys are about five years ahead of us,” Crawford told the group in a City Hall conference room. “We’ve been dealing with a lot of the same economic issues that you have. We’re trying to build our way out of our financial issues.”

Crawford said he wants Los Angeles to get to a place where officials don’t have to scramble each year to find cuts, and can plan to grow programs through a long-term strategy.

Baltimore officials have implemented an approach to fiscal management they call “outcome budgeting” -- which they say emphasizes results over past practices -- and devised a 10-year plan to cut millions from the city’s projected $750 million structural deficit.

About $300 million has been cut from the deficit through a series of measures aimed at preventing Baltimore from facing bankruptcy like other cities, notably Detroit. Among them are sweeping changes to city workers' health care and a longer work schedule for Baltimore's firefighters.

Some Baltimore unions and members of the City Council have been critical of the city's cuts, arguing that budget officials care more about saving money than the livelihoods of rank-and-file city workers.

Rawlings-Blake acknowledged the criticism is her conversation with Crawford.

"There is no easy path. There is no way to do it without hurting," she said. "People say, 'You're supposed to be a Democrat. You're taking a page out of the Tea Party handbook.' I say, 'We got a diagnosis that said we were unhealthy. If you have a different playbook that gets us to health, give it to me. Unless, we have another option continuing to be unhealthy fiscally is not an option.'"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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