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Baltimore City Council expected to give preliminary OK for youth fund charter

City Council is poised to give key approval Monday to legislation that could create a special fund to pump more money into programs for Baltimore children and teens.

The charter amendment, introduced by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, would earmark 3 percent of the city's discretionary spending for youth-focused initiatives. Under the current spending plan, the measure would direct the city to spend about $30 million more on kids.

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But before it could go to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for her consideration, council must give final approval on Jan. 25. If it survives the process, voters would be asked to sign off on the plan in November.

"The course it's headed on is straight to the mayor's desk for her signature," said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young.

Rawlings-Blake has expressed concerns about the proposal, calling it "bad fiscal policy." While falling short of saying the mayor would veto the bill, her spokesman Howard Libit said Rawlings-Blake continues to oppose it. The bill would tie the hands of future mayors who may face an unexpected crisis, he said.

"She thinks it is the wrong fiscal precedent to set for the city to begin carving out in the charter mandatory spending requirements that would affect not just the next year's budget, but budgets in perpetuity," Libit said.

The administration says the city will spend $372 million on services for children and youth this year, which is 15 percent of the current operating budget. That amount is 4 percent more than the city spent last year.

Davis said if the mayor vetoes the bill, "there would be an immediate process to override it." The council needs 12 votes to take the highly unusual step to overrule a mayoral veto.

"The council overwhelmingly supports this. Parents and teachers love it," Davis said.

Monday is council's first meeting of the New Year. Among other measures the members will consider is:

•A bill that calls for warning labels to be added to sugar-sweetened beverages to be introduced by Councilman Nick J. Mosby.

Mosby, who is a Democratic candidate for mayor, will join the city's health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, for a news conference on the proposal Monday. The measure is aimed at educating residents about the health consequences of sugary drinks, including sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and most juices.

One in three school-aged children in Baltimore is overweight or obese, according to the health department.

The proposal was met with immediate criticism by the industry groups, including the Maryland Retailers Association. The groups warned that such a measure would have a "chilling effort" on the city's ability to retain and attract grocery stores.

"Many residents in the city already live in food deserts and this legislation will do nothing to address this serious problem," Cailey Locklair Tolle, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, said in a statement.

"Struggling, existing retailers will leave as they are saddled with yet another cost and competitive disadvantage. This bill is bad for retailers, bad for the hospitality industry and bad for the great city of Baltimore."

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"We are concerned that this proposed legislation goes too far and could unjustifiably alarm customers about ingredients that have long been 'generally recognized as safe' by the FDA. It is inappropriate and irresponsible for local government to require warnings that usurp federal regulatory authority," said Melvin Thompson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy for the Restaurant Association of Maryland.

The groups also noted several steps being taken to help inform consumers.

•A drop in the interest rate charged to property owners facing tax sale, under a measure by the Rawlings-Blake administration. As it is now, the city sells tax lien certificates to third-party investors that charge 18 percent interest and act as collection agencies for the city. The bill being introduced Monday would cut the rate to 12 percent.

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