So precarious is the fiscal status of Baltimore City that when this week's preliminary budget turned out to be less than a disaster, a mood of delirium overtook the Board of Estimates. "I feel very good. I feel like I have come out of a long tunnel," City Council President Mary Pat Clarke gushed. As other members joined this chorus, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had to interrupt: "Folks, we are not out of the woods yet."
His caution is well placed. The Finance Department's conservative proposal for a $1.86 billion spending plan contains rTC no tax increases or major cuts in services. But it is only a starting point. It is built on a number of shaky assumptions.
For instance, it recommends that for the second year in a row no municipal workers be granted salary increases. This will be tested in court, though, when the firefighters' union demands that its pay settlement, achieved through arbitration but disregarded by the city, be honored. Should the court decide in the firefighters' favor, that could open the floodgates for pay demands, costing millions of dollars, from other municipal workers, even though they do not have arbitrated contracts.