Finalizing the city budget will be the most important decision the Baltimore City Council will make this year. The allocation of the city's revenue will help determine Baltimoreans' level of education, job readiness, security, and overall peace and satisfaction.
The public participated in this year's budget decision-making process and attended hearings, held rallies, sent letters, and made phone calls urging the City Council to oppose the budget submitted by MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake, until funds were included to: 1) adequately fund city recreation centers; 2) increase after-school activities; 3) increase summer jobs for youth; 4) continue intergenerational programs; and 5) keep three fire stations open that are slated for closure.
City Council President Bernard"Jack" Youngresponded and submitted a recommendation, "The President's Plan for a Better Baltimore," to modify the budget in accordance with these requests from the public. In a strong mayoral form of government, such as Baltimore City's, it is risky to challenge the mayor. However, President Young assumed the responsibility demanded of his position and submitted a $17.1 million modification in response to citizens' needs and priorities.
We commend President Young and are in full support of his funding recommendations and are disappointed to learn that mayor is not. In a copy of a letter dated June 7 sent to President Young, Mayor Rawlings Blake dismissed the recommendations, stating, "I believe that the vast majority of [the proposals] are unadvisable, unworkable and irresponsible. I cannot support them."
We believe that the mayor objects to the revenue sources the council president identified to fund the increased opportunities, and not the opportunities themselves.
The council is working hard to find revenues and voted on budget amendments freeing up a total of $6.7 million toward this end. We urge the mayor to negotiate with the City Council to find acceptable revenue options to fund these important opportunities and safety provisions.
The people of Baltimore assumed their responsibility in guiding the allocation of the city's $2.3 billion budget. We estimate that more than 2,500 people, so far, have contacted their elected officials in support of the funding priorities included in President Young's recommendations. Although 2,500 is a fraction of the number of voters in the city, it is more than the number of votes received by six City Council members in the 2011 primary election who went on to win their seats in the general election. In fact, one City Council seat was won with only 1,776 votes. The Democratic slot for mayor was won with only 13 percent of registered Democrats (38,829 votes), and the City Council president's position garnered 17 percent (48,863 votes).
None of these numbers give any of us — mayor, City Council or voters — bragging rights. Let's park our high horses and work together. We are confident that the Finance Department, under Mayor Rawlings Blake's leadership, can trim $17.1 million from the proposed $2.3 billion budget to make the changes recommended by President Young and advocated by the citizens.
We commend the mayor for doing the lion's share of the work and for closing a $48 million funding gap. We urge her to finalize the budget with the president's recommendations and celebrate a collaboration that produces more opportunities for our youth, continued fire safety coverage and the satisfaction of working together to make Baltimore a more productive, safe, and peaceful city in 2013.
Hathaway Ferebee is executive director of the Safe and Sound Campaign. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Rick Hoffman is president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734 I.A.F.F. AFL-CIO, CLC. Pastor Cortly Witherspoon is president of the Baltimore Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.