Going in front of Baltimore lawmakers to pitch a budget that would cut the amount of cash the state puts into the city's coffers, Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley tried Friday to paint a rosy picture.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan's fiscal policies will attract jobs to Baltimore, he said, and a tax break for people paying off student debt would help young people who are moving into the city. The budget does cut direct financial aid to Baltimore by $31 million, down to $1.24 billion.
"But wait," Brinkley said. "There's more."
Throw in the cost of some public safety programs, the Baltimore City Community College and the Maryland Zoo — things other counties typically pay for themselves — and Baltimore gets $1.43 billion, still the biggest contribution to any jurisdiction in the state.
A trio of junior lawmakers — all Democrats — leapt in, questioning the numbers and quizzing Brinkley on cuts the budget would deliver to public schools.
Del. Cory McCray was first, asking Brinkley whether Hogan was deaf to the concerns of school systems that face losing state money as enrollment declines.
Brinkley parried, saying his boss was aware of the challenges but had to make decisions to deal with an overall budget shortfall.
"So, in so many words, we know it's a problem but the governor fails to address it in his budget?" McCray asked.
"I don't think that's a fair statement at all," Brinkley said. "The governor has now put it in front of you so you can contribute any kind of input that you have."
Del. Brooke Lierman jumped in next.
She criticized a private school voucher program supported by the governor for taking children out of public schools, saying it was "directly responsible for sucking money out of Baltimore City public schools."
If the delegate was suggesting that the voucher program was the cause of the public school system's budget shortfall, Brinkley said, "that's a strong fallacy."
Lierman said the vouchers weren't the sole cause but that it was unavoidable that the program would have some effect on enrollment.
"So it's hard for me to understand how you can support a program on the one hand that's directly taking money out of Baltimore city public schools and on the hand you're trying to say you're supporting Baltimore city public schools," she said. "You can't have it both ways."
Del. Nick Mosby, sitting in on his first delegation meeting since being formally appointed this week, had questions about the effect of tax deals for developers have on the formula that is used to calculate school budgets.
"We know that directly attributes to a large percentage of the money that's being taken away not from us but Baltimore city public school kids," Mosby said. "Personally, do you think the formula is flawed?"
"Let's put it this way: It's 15 years old," Brinkley said. "The only constant in this world is change."
His briefing done, Brinkley offered high-fives to three sixth-graders from Southwest Baltimore Charter School who were up next to testify about the effect the budget cuts would have on them.
"Don't leave the man hanging," Del. Curt Anderson told the schoolchildren.