Stephanie Rawlings-Blake / Gage Skidmore

June 13, 2016; Baltimore Sun

The political infighting between Baltimore’s mayor and city council continues. NPQ has reported on the city’s efforts to maintain services while attempting to close a $60 million budget gap. The city council threatened a city shutdown, upset at Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s initial decision to not provide $4.2 million for youth programs the council had mandated by resolution. The mayor’s decision was a reaction against what she saw as the council’s attempt to micromanage the budget by targeted resolutions rather than tackling the budget as a holistic exercise in aligning the city’s resources and priorities. “The City needs a balanced budget. Not grandstanding. That is what we are elected to do,” Rawlings-Blake said.

In a new proposal to get a city budget approved by the June 26th deadline, the mayor has restored the youth programs funding and made cuts in funding for code enforcement, graffiti removal, and other services. City Council President Bernard Young, while appreciative of seeing the youth programs being funded, is upset that the mayor chose to announce the plan to the public before discussing it with council leaders. This appears to be symptomatic of a communication breakdown between the mayor and council. The mayor is frustrated by what she sees as grandstanding by council members, and council members believe they should be included in the budget drafting and redrafting process before a budget is released to the public. “I’m dissatisfied with some of the cuts,” Young said. “They should’ve included us and not blindsided us.”

In the context of a $2.6 billion city budget, each of the items in dispute is insignificant in its budgetary impact. However, budgets are balanced by making many decisions affecting small line items. On the other hand, an insignificant expenditure in a billion-dollar budget can change an individual’s life or the future of a neighborhood. As this ongoing battle also illustrates, such decisions can also affect the power and success of the politicians entrusted with the stewardship of their city. Baltimore faces especially difficult challenges to serve its residents, which is one reason why there are intense fights over issues like funding levels of a few million dollars for education and youth services in the context of a city budget 600 times larger than the amounts in dispute.—Michael Wyland