BALTIMORE - "My name is ____and I am Baltimore" was the opening statement of a dozen young people who went on to tell their personal stories at the annual "City Council Tax Payers' Night" at Baltimore's War Memorial Building May 18. Organized by the Safe and Sound Campaign, the youth, sporting colorful t-shirts, were part of the scores of testimonies by Baltimore citizens who weighed in on Baltimore's preliminary fiscal year 2012 budget before members of the City Council.
The youth were united in a call for restoration of 4,000 summer jobs that the proposed budget cuts from the 9,000 summer jobs in 2009. The higher number was in large part the result of the Obama Administration stimulus package, a fact pointed out by Ralph Moore, organizer for "Full Employment Baltimore," which organized an exuberant rally before the hearing.
The testimonies of the youth as well as the statements on their shirts - "It's about opportunity" or "I was born to thrive" (on the front) "so don't arrest me" (on the back) - point to the seriousness of the reversed priorities of underfunded youth programs and overfunded youth criminalization projects in Baltimore. The proposed budget, for example, calls for a $1.5 million decrease in recreation centers and a $4.5 million increase in crime investigation. A flier distributed at the rally announced a May 25 "Anti-Jail Alliance Community Meeting" to stop the construction of a $100 million facility "on a new adult facility to house youth pre-trial."
A second major theme of Tax Payers' Night was related to the first: the spending of taxpayer dollars to fund wars abroad instead of needed social programs at home. A number of speakers referenced the efforts of the "Fund our Communities; Bring the War Dollars Home" coalition in its planned actions for a National Mayors Conference being held in Baltimore June 17-21. The same City Council that was hearing the anguished grievances of Baltimore citizens was also congratulated for passing a resolution this past May 16 "calling on Congress to redirect military spending to domestic priorities." Similar resolutions are being passed in other cities in preparation for the national mayors conference.
Other suggestions on how to fund needed social programs were offered. Local resident Tom Chalkley told the dozen council members sitting on the stage in the cavernous hall, "You are sitting up there asking, 'Where is the money coming from?' But I ask you: How many corporations pay their fair share of taxes to our city? I challenge you to fund a study to see how much of a shortfall Baltimore City is suffering because corporations aren't paying their fair share."
Another speaker, Charlie Cooper, saw the budget woes of cities such as Baltimore as needing a national solution. "We need Congress to enact a public works jobs program, to cut the military budget and to bring the war dollars home," he said.