Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Thursday the City Council's threat to shut down government over a youth funding dispute is "dysfunctional grandstanding" that could result in real harm to Baltimore residents.
"It would look like a hot mess," Rawlings-Blake said of a shutdown. "It would look like we failed our constituents."
City Council leaders are threatening the shutdown unless Rawlings-Blake restores more than $4 million in funding for youth programs.
President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and the council's budget chairwoman, Helen Holton, said this week they will refuse to approve the mayor's $2.6 billion spending plan — leaving the city without authorized funding for the fiscal year that begins in July — unless the mayor puts more money into after-school programs. By law, the City Council must approve a balanced budget by June 26.
Rawlings-Blake pledged Thursday to avoid a shutdown — and declined to speculate about which services would be in jeopardy. When the government of Paterson, N.J., shut down in March amid a budget dispute, that city suspended trash pickup, after-school programs and other services.
"It's something I'm not even considering," Rawlings-Blake said of a possible shutdown in Baltimore. "It's certainly not in the best interest of our city and the people we get paid every two weeks to serve."
The mayor said she has tried to compromise with Young — she's suggested selling the city's parking garages to raise money for the youth programs — but he has rejected that plan.
The mayor said she has also presented Young with a list of possible cuts. She declined to provide more details.
"There's a bunch of stuff we're thinking about cutting, and none of it is good," Rawlings-Blake said.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said council members have been meeting with city finance officials to try to work out a deal. "Dialogue is open and folks are working constructively toward resolution," Davis said.
At issue is $4.2 million the city allocated last year to pay for 2,500 children to participate in after-school programs. The money also was used to operate community programs at six schools.
Many of the programs help youths near the site of rioting in West Baltimore last year. Council members also are concerned about a $167,000 reduction in funding for day-care programs at Waverly and Northwood schools.
Money for those programs was not included in Rawlings-Blake's proposed budget for the coming year. The mayor said she had to make tough choices to close a $60 million budget deficit.
"I can't pretend we have a money tree in the basement," she said.
Partisan gridlock has become common in Washington, where congressional Republicans and Democratic President Barack Obama clashed in 2013, leading to a government shutdown. In Baltimore, where all elected officials are members of the Democratic Party, government shutdowns shouldn't even be on the table, Rawlings-Blake said.
She accused Young of behaving like obstructionists in Congress.
"He has a track record of grandstanding and being an obstacle to progress," she said.
Activists, including supporters of after-school provider Child First Authority and clergy allied with Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development, or BUILD, have been advocating for the funding for weeks. But they have yet to reach an agreement with the Rawlings-Blake administration. On Monday, activists and about 200 children rallied at City Hall.
At that rally, Young and Holton pledged to withhold approval of the budget unless funds are restored.
"If they can come up with money for all this other stuff, they can come up with money for kids," Young said. "I just don't believe they can't find the money for the kids. We're looking for cuts as well."
Young said he wanted to avoid a government shutdown.
"We're working in good conscience with the budget director trying to come up strategies," Young said. But he accused Rawlings-Blake of declining to fund the programs because she's not running for another term.
"If the mayor was running in this election, we wouldn't be talking about this," he said. "We would have a good budget."
Holton suggested that limiting police overtime would be one way to come up with money for after-school programs.
"Youth investment is public safety," she said. "Why not try a different strategy? Either you pay now or pay later. Either way, you will pay."
Rawlings-Blake's fiscal 2017 budget recommends allocating $480 million to police and $265 million to public education for students from kindergarten through high school.
The city schools are largely funded by the state of Maryland, which has dedicated $932 million to Baltimore's schools next year. The state does not help pay the operating expenses of the Police Department.
Rawlings-Blake said Thursday she would increase funding for after-school programs if Young agreed to a hearing on her bill to sell four of the city's 17 parking garages, netting $40 million to $60 million.
The administration wants to sell garages on Eutaw, Paca, Gay and St. Paul streets in downtown Baltimore.
Young has said he will not give the mayor's bill a hearing unless he receives assurances that the money will be used to build "super" recreation centers in East and West Baltimore.
"Every time I've wanted there to be additional resources for schools and children, I didn't sit down and say, 'I'm going to shut the government down,'" the mayor said. "This isn't the first time I had to fight the council president when I was trying to create progress and he was trying to create roadblocks. I don't understand the small-mindedness of the council."