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The City Council leaders' threat this week to shut down Baltimore's government unless Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake restores $4.2 million in funds for youth programs that were cut from next year's budget is, simply put, a ridiculous idea — one we hope is just an ill-conceived bluff.

No one is denying the city needs more after-school activities for kids. But the sum in question is infinitesimal compared to the city's $2.6 billion budget, and threatening to shut down the entire city government over it is like using a bazooka to swat a fly. Ultimately, it would hurt the very young people council leaders insist they want to help.

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City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and council budget chair Helen Holton say if necessary they'll hold up a council vote on the city's spending plan for next year if that's what it takes to reverse the mayor's cuts. But if the council thinks that failing to fund after-school programs will hurt the city, has it considered how much worse off Baltimore will be if it can't pay its bills this summer? If city workers can't collect their salaries and city contractors stop providing essential services? What happens when people lose their paychecks and garbage starts piling up in the streets? At some point, the issue is no longer one of "fighting for the city's children," as Mr. Young insists, but one of municipal suicide.

Moreover, it should have occurred to the council's leaders that Ms. Rawlings-Blake won't even be in office next year, and doesn't have certain political pressures to cave to their demands. Meanwhile, whoever is elected to succeed her in November would enter office hamstrung by the significant loss of revenue the city almost certainly would sustain even if the shutdown lasted only a few days or weeks. And by the way, how long does the council think it can keep the government shut without police, fire and emergency services and without putting the city in a financial hole it might take years to climb out of?

We have said before that Ms. Rawlings-Blake has been a careful and responsible steward of the city's finances despite the need to make painful choices regarding budget priorities. And make no mistake: Those are tough decisions. Earlier this year city budget director Andrew Kleine said that the $4.2 million added to this year's budget for youth programs happened only because delays in negotiations between the city and school employees over health care benefits made it possible to use $4.2 million as a one-time boost for after-school programs to help small nonprofits compete for grant funding from sources other than the city.

That's not how it was understood at the time, however. In the wake of Freddie Gray's death in police custody last year many people saw the increase in youth funding as a long-term commitment to address the systemic causes of the unrest that began the day of Mr. Gray's funeral. That is why people — including many council members — were shocked and angry when the mayor seemed to renege on that promise by dropping funding for those programs from this year's budget.

In response, the council's leaders seem to be taking a page from Republican lawmakers in Congress who have tried repeatedly over the years to bend the executive branch to their will by threatening to shut down the federal government. With each attempt, they saw their public approval ratings plummet (without, however, deterring them from trying yet again). What council members should have learned from that silliness is to never box themselves in by making threats they can't possibly carry out without inviting disastrous consequences for themselves and those they represent.

If the council is serious about boosting funding for youth after-school programs it needs to redouble efforts to negotiate a compromise with the Rawlings-Blake administration and knock off the talk about government shutdowns.

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