City's 1994 budget vetoed by Schmoke Mayor cites need to provide funds for more police

June 22, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke vetoed last night the 1994 fiscal year budget approved by the City Council, saying it did not provide enough money to hire the additional police officers the city sorely needs.

Mr. Schmoke's action throws into question whether the city's property tax rate is going to be cut. The council had tentatively approved a 5-cent tax reduction last week.

The mayor said he vetoed the $2 billion budget with "great reluctance" but added, "I veto this ordinance because I think it's in the best interests of the city to do so."

Longtime staffers of both the council and the city's budget office said that they could not recall a mayor of Baltimore vetoing a budget. The veto means that the council -- which was scheduled to begin its three-month summer recess after last night's meeting -- will have to be called into special session. That session is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 a.m.

By law, a budget must be in place by the July 1 start of the fiscal year. Mr. Schmoke said he would submit a new budget as a "walk-on" item to the Board of Estimates tomorrow, which would then send it to the City Council for action.

That announcement provoked a sharp exchange between Mr. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who said the council must first dispose of the budget the mayor vetoed.

Ms. Clarke promised that the council would attempt to override the mayor's veto. A veto override requires 15 of 19 council votes.

The exchange came at a rare night session of the Board of Estimates. Typically, the board routinely approves the budget bill after the City Council passes it. The mayor and the council president sit on the board, which is responsible for overseeing the city's finances.

In explaining the veto, the mayor noted that he and members of the City Council had agreed that more police officers were needed.

"Clearly at the top of our priorities is providing additional police officers so we can enhance public safety. I do not believe that what has been presented will address the common goals," Mr. Schmoke said.

In vetoing the budget, the mayor in effect rejected the council's preliminary approval last Thursday of a nickel cut in the city's current property tax rate of $5.90 per $100 of assessed value.

Noting that he had twice approved property tax cuts during his six years in office, Mr. Schmoke said that he was planning to propose a nickel reduction in the tax next year.

But he said the city could not now provide both more police and relief in its property tax rate.

The showdown between Mr. Schmoke and the council over the budget is the culmination of weeks of battling that began in March when the mayor proposed a rise in the city's piggyback income tax rate from 50 percent to 52 percent to raise $4 million to pay for an additional 120 police officers.

Last Monday, Mr. Schmoke proposed alternatives to the

piggyback tax that included closing loopholes in waste-disposal fees and using part of a surplus in the police and fire retirement fund to reduce the city's fund contribution.

But last Thursday, the council failed to consider the piggyback tax, effectively killing the measure. The council did not take up the waste-disposal bill and passed the retirement bill in a form the mayor says he will veto.

The council also passed on second reader the nickel property tax cut, which would cost the city $4 million in revenue.

To pay for the cuts, the council trimmed a wide range of capital projects. But Mr. Schmoke said last night that council members did not fully understand the impact of some of the capital projects they cut.

The mayor said he felt he had the votes to win approval of a new budget that would include more money for police. He said the money would come from some savings that would accrue to the city despite a veto of the retirement bill, and he said he would try to get the waste bill through the council in the fall -- in time to get three-quarters of the bill's projected $1.3 million revenue.

But he said his proposal would not include money to be raised by the piggyback tax. "It's very clear the council does not go for the piggyback," the mayor said.

The council appeared deeply divided over the veto.

Ms. Clarke promised to force a vote on override -- despite the obvious difficulty in getting the required three-quarters majority.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, a leading opponent of the piggyback tax increase, said he felt the council had worked "long and hard" to adopt a budget that would pay for police and a property tax cut.

But Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, the mayor's floor leader, blamed the council for the budget confrontation. "It would've been avoided if we had acted responsibly in the budget process," the 5th District Democrat said.

Asked how she thinks the battle looks to the public, Ms. Hall said, "I think it looks tacky."

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