A budget should be a moral document, Baltimore's isn't
By Vernell Bridges
May 10, 2019 | 10:15 AM
Bernard C. "Jack" Young takes the oath during the ceremonial mayoral swearing-in ceremony. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun video)
Dear Mayor Young,
Congratulations on becoming mayor of Baltimore. You take office in a sad and sobering moment in our city, when Baltimore’s top leadership has violated the public’s trust — again. Public confidence in good government is as low as it has ever been.
You have a special opportunity to begin rebuilding that trust as you finalize the city’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. I write to you with hope because I believe that you love this city as much as I do. I pray that you will use your experience and talents to lead a city government that meets the needs of all residents, particularly those of us who too often get left behind.
A budget is a moral document, and the FY 2020 budget proposed by your predecessor does not reflect my morals or the values of Communities United. For every general fund dollar spent on police, Catherine Pugh’s budget would spend 53 cents on schools, 15 cents on housing and community development, 13 cents on human services, just over a nickel on jobs (6 cents) and only one penny on substance use disorder and mental health.
Baltimore officials are proposing a $2.9 billion budget for the coming year, adding almost $100 million in spending on city services. Budget director Bob Cenname said the city has a $33 million surplus, thanks to higher than anticipated revenues and slightly lower spending than forecast.
This spending ratio is immoral because twice as many people in Baltimore are dying of overdoses as murder. Baltimore already spends much more per capita on police than similar cities — at least 25 percent more. In 2017, Baltimore spent $772 on police per resident, while Detroit spent $450, New York $581, and Houston $383. This isn’t new. In the last 10 years, spending on the police and sheriff’s departments has grown by 67 percent, from $317.2 million in FY 2010 to $527.2 million in FY 2020. It’s grown faster than the city’s overall General Fund, which increased by only 44 percent over the same time.
If police were the silver bullet to public safety, Baltimore would be the safest city in America. It’s not; USA Today and the FBI have called Baltimore the most dangerous.
We cannot wait to fix this. The moment is now. You can choose to send a different budget to the City Council. On behalf of Communities United, I ask you to make a commitment to right-sizing Baltimore’s police budget by taking 25 percent ($131 million) from policing and investing those dollars in schools; truly affordable housing along with new pathways to homeownership for low and moderate income residents; good jobs, particularly for formerly incarcerated residents like my son, who is facing roadblocks at every turn in his job search; flooding the streets with overdose reversal kits and other harm reduction efforts that stop overdoses, healing trauma and other supports for community safety and welfare.
Baltimore's 51st mayor — Bernard C. "Jack" Young — spends his first full day on the job in Detroit for an economic development conference. With his phone ringing nonstop, Young said the city government is still fighting crime and council members are "making sure that things are getting done."
I understand that the proposed FY2020 budget includes investments to make the police department more efficient by creating less-expensive civilian positions, investing in new technology and meeting other mandates of the federal consent decree. These are important and necessary. Yet, the only way Baltimore’s per capita spending on police will go down is if we just cut it. There simply is no explanation for Baltimore to so outspend other cities.
I realize that this is a bold ask. But you are no stranger to moving big visions. I applaud you for leading the ballot initiative that created the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, which now invests $12 million a year in community-led youth programs (including Communities United’s own Youth Organizing Leadership Academy).
We need your bold leadership, and we need it now. Mayor Young, I believe God has put you in this position so that you can make the changes so overdue for Baltimore. I am counting on you. Please don’t let me down!