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Rawlings-Blake vetoes youth fund; council president pledges to override

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed legislation Monday to create a special account in Baltimore's budget for youth programs,setting up the likelihood of a City Council override for the first time in more than three decades.

The City Council voted 14-0 last month to approve the legislation proposed by President Bernard C. "Jack" Young. That's more than enough votes to override the mayor's veto and put the charter amendment before voters in November.

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The Children and Youth Fund would earmark 3 percent of the city's discretionary spending for programs for children and teens. That would amount to $30 million in the current budget.

Rawlings-Blake said earmarking a pot of money is bad fiscal policy that would tie the hands of future mayors. She warned that the city is facing a $75 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

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"[T]hat will result in difficult choices regarding service reductions and eliminations," she wrote in her veto letter. "But this proposed charter amendment will only exacerbate those problems and lead to millions more in cuts affecting services and jobs important not just to our youth, but also to the families of Baltimore."

The 15-member council could vote to override the veto as early as Feb. 22. If 12 members agree, the measure will appear on the November ballot.

Young, who proposed the charter amendment last year, described it as an investment in the city's young people.

Young expects the council to overturn the veto, his spokesman said Monday.

"There is overwhelming support on the council, and there is even greater support in the community," spokesman Lester Davis said. "You can't have a single person put a stop to something like this. It should be up to the people providing the money, the taxpayers."

If voters approve the measure, the city is expected to set up a board to review applications from groups that want some of the money.

Rawlings-Blake said the city will spend $372 million on services for children and youth this year, including schools, prekindergarten, after-school programs, libraries and health services. That's 4 percent more than the city spent in the last budget.

"Is that enough? Of course not," Rawlings-Blake wrote. "It never will be. But these are issues that should be taken care of during the budget process and negotiated."

The mayor said carve-outs, even for "worthwhile endeavors, such as homelessness, affordable housing, hunger and seniors," could stop city government from providing basic services.

Rawlings-Blake pointed to the last time a council overrode a mayoral veto, in 1982. Mayor William Donald Schaefer had opposed a bill to give increased pension benefits to Baltimore's firefighters and police officers.

Rising pension costs squeezed city services over the years, Rawlings-Blake wrote, and by 2010 "the city was faced with spending $65 million a year on increased pension payments rooted in the council's action over three decades ago."

Rawlings-Blake said the city "took corrective action to reverse" the benefits provided through the 1982 legislation and has been "embroiled in federal litigation with the public safety unions for the last six years."

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"The city still operates under the threat of losing that lawsuit, which could result in tens of millions of dollars that could be used for vital city services needing to be repaid for those enhanced pension benefits."

Young has said the youth fund will save money in the long run.

"We either invest in our youth now or we pay later," Young said recently. "If you look at the costs of incarceration, what I'm asking for isn't very much. It's just the right thing to do."

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