If the legislature doesn't come up with some way to forestall the budget ax, Mayor Schmoke and the City Council will have little choice but to start chopping away at everything that has made Baltimore the employment center and economic engine of the region.
Baltimore provides more that 40 percent of the region's private sector jobs. It generates $4 billion in income that is taxed elsewhere and thus is unavailable for local needs. The cruelest irony is that with the city now facing proposed cuts in state aid of as much as $21 million, the biggest victims will be those least able to bear it -- children, the poor, the elderly and the infirm.
City schools, would see their funds reduced by $2 million. The cuts would affect every level of the system from headquarters staff to individual classrooms, wiping out breakfast programs that now serve 11,300 children and forcing major reductions in school lunch programs.
The cuts would shut down half the system's 60 pre-kindergarten programs that give disadvantaged 4-year-olds a head start. After-school programs, dropout prevention programs and adult education programs -- all would be slated for cuts. The cumulative effect would be to stifle any possibility of meaningful school reform.
In other areas, every city agency -- including the police and fire departments -- would take a 6.5 percent hit. Housing, transportation and nutrition programs for the elderly poor would be slashed. State-financed welfare grants would be eliminated, and the city's program to train welfare parents for jobs would be gutted.
The "City that Reads" would have to close even more branches of the Pratt library system. Agencies that monitor air and water quality would have to lay off workers. Drug- and alcohol-treatment centers would lose 315 beds, and 103 jobs would be eliminated from school nursing services -- often the only health care students receive. The city would even have to fire food inspectors for the restaurant industry, which could hurt tourism.
Such deep cuts would severely cripple the city's ability not only to attract new businesses and continue the regeneration of its neighborhoods, but also to provide the basic services residents expect and deserve from local government.
Could anyone blame Mayor Schmoke if he went to Annapolis and told lawmakers flat out that, rather than preside over what amounted to slow municipal suicide, he was turning in the City Charter and handing the problem over to them?