Several members of the Baltimore City Council on Tuesday criticized the Rawlings-Blake administration for not spending enough on the education of children and allocating too many resources to police.
At a hearing on Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's proposed $2.6 billion operating budget for next year, Councilman James B. Kraft questioned the city's long-standing practice of spending more money on policing than public education.
"We're spending about half of the budget on public safety," Kraft said. "Howard County is spending 52 percent on education. ... We're spending a tremendous amount on the back end. How about we just turn it upside down now?"
Kraft's comments were echoed by City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who said Baltimore officials would need to spend less on incarceration if more was done to educate children.
"If we were proactive instead of reactive, we wouldn't need all those police officers," Young said, encouraging cutting police spending. "The police department has to feel it, too."
Rawlings-Blake's fiscal year 2017 budget recommends spending $451 million on police and $256 million on public education. The city schools are largely funded by the state of Maryland, which has dedicated $932 million to Baltimore's schools for next year. The state does not provide fiscal aid to the city police department.
Baltimore budget director Andrew Kleine said the mayor's administration this year has successfully curbed the annual increases to the police budget.
"The police budget is flat," Kleine said. "That, in my experience, is unprecedented."
But Kleine drew criticism from council members over proposed cuts to afterschool and child care centers. Rawlings-Blake's budget does not include $4.2 million for community and after-school programs currently funded by the city, and $167,000 for daycare programs at Waverly and Northwood schools.
"Shame on you," City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told Kleine.
Clarke said the daycare programs in question serve 40 youngsters. "It's safe. It's affordable. It's really what the children need," she said.
"We will not leave any families without child care," Kleine responded.
The $4.2 million council members and advocates seek pays for 2,500 children to participate in after-school programs, plus six community schools. Many of the programs help youths near the site of the rioting that engulfed West Baltimore last April.
Meanwhile, council members took issue with an administration plan to raise the city's parking tax to fund the free Charm City Circulator bus. Kleine said the administration plans to raise the parking tax at public garages from 20 percent to 24 percent — generating $6 million more annually for the money losing Circulator. That legislation has not yet been introduced.
City Councilman Brandon Scott said the city should instead charge users of the downtown bus $1.
"We can't keep operating a free service when we're cutting everything else," Scott said.
Rawlings-Blake's budget also includes $6 million to equip police officers with body cameras and funds a small property tax cut for owner-occupied homes. It contains a $10.4 million increase in funds dedicated to public education — which helps make up for a formula-driven cut in state aid for the schools.
"The city's wealth is growing faster than the rest of the state," Kleine said, explaining the cut in state aid. "The city schools removed 2,000 so-called 'ghost students' from enrollment data."
Even so, Kraft said, the city needs to radically rethink how it allocates funds.
"We're arguing over $4.2 million?" he asked. "Let's try something. We've got to find a way to start over again."