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Seeking more schools money, Baltimore City Council votes to cut $26 million from Pugh's budget

The Baltimore City Council voted 15-0 Monday to make deep cuts to Mayor Catherine Pugh's budget proposal to free up more money for schools and after-school programs.

Council members said the preliminary vote to cut more than $26 million from Pugh's $2.8 billion operating budget was designed to pressure the mayor to compromise. The cuts included the mayor's entire budget office and several of her signature initiatives.

A final vote on the budget is scheduled for next week. By law, the City Council has the power to cut from the mayor's budget. But only Pugh can redirect funds to new purposes.

"I continue to be committed to getting a deal done with the administration," said City Councilman Eric T. Costello, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. "The council is all on the same page about funding our priorities, which are focused on youth programming. These priorities are important to us and we're not backing down."

Pugh expressed confidence she could reach an agreement with the council in the next week.

"I'm sure we will all come together in the end," Pugh said. "In the heat of the moment, people say things they mean or may not mean. ... I know we're very close on many of the issues. It really is how we come together.

"It's not my budget; it's not the council's budget; it's the budget for the city."

Council members have pressed the Pugh administration to use a $13 million surplus from the current fiscal year to provide $10 million more for public schools and about $3 million more for after-school programs next year. They also want more funding for the anti-violence program Safe Streets, which lost a federal grant needed to operate.

After-school programs are facing cuts in next year's budget and school officials already have laid off more than 100 employees to help close a budget shortfall.

Pugh said a sticking point is making sure the city has enough money to fund a pledge of $90 million in increased funding for the school system over the next three years. That pledge was part of a deal with state officials, who agreed to kick in a matching amount to help close a projected multimillion dollar budget gap over the next three years.

"Our commitment to education is not just one year," she said. "Our commitment is over a three-year period. We have to make sure we have monies to cover a three-year period."

The council voted to strip $2 million from Pugh's budget bill for the Bureau of the Budget and Management Research and cut $770,000 from an innovation fund. The committee also voted to cut some of Pugh's signature initiatives, including $1 million for mobile employment vans, $600,000 for new energy-efficient trash cans, $2 million from police administration, $2.7 million for debt on municipal trash cans, $6 million for paying down other debts and $1.4 million in miscellaneous expenses.

The council also voted to cut $600,000 for a new waste disposal site, $3.8 million for new street lights and $5.1 million for street cleaning.

City Councilman Brandon Scott said funding after-school programs and Safe Streets is needed to fight Baltimore's surging murder rate.

"I am a little disappointed that we are at this point," he said. "We are experiencing an unprecedented amount of violence in Baltimore."

Pugh's budget director Andrew Kleine said in an email that the surplus money is just a projection. If it materializes, he said, he plans to use it to shore up the budget against a number of long-term issues, including potential retroactive pension payments if the city loses a lawsuit filed by the police union, the cost of taking care of the city's closed schools, and funding the mayor's commitment to increasing school funding over the next three years.

This past Thursday, school system teachers, librarians, guidance counselors, assistant principals and support staff were informed they would lose their jobs. Administrators said they laid off 115 people in all, including the first classroom teachers in a decade, part of a plan to close a $130 million budget gap.

School officials say more money from the city could help prevent a second round of layoffs and allow them to call back some employees who were laid off in the first round.

The money for after-school programming would mean about 1,000 youths could participate in 20 after-school programs and 3,400 families could participate in six community school programs, council members said.

A final council vote on the budget is scheduled for June 12.

City Councilman Ed Reisinger said it was the first time in his years on the council when he's seen the city's legislative branch unite to stand up against the mayor's budget.

"Every member of this council has the priority of education and our kids," he said.

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he believed Pugh would continue to negotiate with council members.

"I'm very confident that we're going to get a deal," he said.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

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