In the Media: City Council Issues Rawlings-Blake's Budget; Goodson Trial Verdict Expected Thursday
A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.
From the Baltimore Sun: After acrimony, Baltimore City Council issues Rawlings-Blake’s budget
"As protesters decried a cut in library funding, the Baltimore City Council gave final approval Monday to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's $2.6 billion operating budget — which cuts property taxes and shrinks city government to its smallest size in decades.
"The budget deal, which passed 12-0, came after the council and mayor fought for weeks over $4.2 million that Rawlings-Blake did not initially include for youth programs. The fight escalated this month when Council President Bernard C. 'Jack' Young threatened to shut down the government and Rawlings-Blake accused him of 'grandstanding.'
"The mayor agreed last week to add the $4.2 million, which will pay for after-school and community school programming for about 2,500 students. To free the money, she said she needed to cut funding elsewhere — including $100,000 for library materials.
"That prompted library supporters to protest Monday outside City Hall, holding signs that said, 'Our kids need libraries.' Charlie Metz, a member of the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, said the city's libraries need more money, not less.
"He noted that the city is considering selling bonds to build a new library as part of the proposed redevelopment of Port Covington. Meanwhile, he said, existing libraries are being shorted.
"'We have a lack of resources,' Metz said. 'We have a lack of books. We don't have enough money for librarians. What has happened with this budget agreement is: We've been shortchanged again. ... We find that intolerable.'
"Charlie Metz, member and past president of the Friends of Enoch Pratt Free Library, joins Cortly Witherspoon Jr., 7, and others to protest a $100,000 cut in library spending. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)
"Rawlings-Blake and Young have been at loggerheads over the budget since the mayor unveiled her proposal in March for the budget year that begins July 1.
"Young and the council's budget committee chairwoman, Helen Holton, threatened a government shutdown unless Rawlings-Blake fully funded the youth programs, including $167,000 for day care programs at Waverly and Northwood schools.
"But after Monday's vote, Young and Rawlings-Blake sent a joint news release hailing the budget's passage.
"Young called the budget 'lean' and said it 'didn't offer many areas for trimming.'
"'But my Council colleagues and I were determined to comb over the budget in the least disruptive way possible to find savings to help restore the $4.2 million in funding cuts,' he said in the news release.
"The approved budget cuts $1 million in merit-based raises for city managers, reduces funding for bridge repairs and preventive maintenance by $170,000, and cuts $100,000 each from the library system and anti-litter efforts, among other reductions."
From the Baltimore Sun: New accounts will help people with disabilities save for the future
"Like many parents of children with disabilities, Richard and Carol Dean of Columbia have to perform a juggling act to take care of their daughters' finances. They keep close tabs to make sure Jill, 33, and Amanda, 39, never have more than $2,000 in their bank accounts.
"The sisters are developmentally disabled, and even a small nest egg could render them ineligible for government assistance such as Medicaid. That makes it tough for families to set aside money for loved ones who might need their help.
"Soon the Deans and others will have a tool to help save for the future. Starting in fall 2017, Maryland will offer a new savings account that allows people with disabilities to set aside money without losing eligibility for benefits.
"A law passed in this year's General Assembly session will allow families and disabled people to set aside up to $14,000 a year — up to $100,000 total — without affecting eligibility for Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and other government programs. Officials say an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Marylanders may be eligible to save.
"The idea behind ABLE accounts — which stands for Achieving a Better Life Experience — is similar to setting aside tuition money through the College Savings Plan of Maryland.
"'Just like a family is encouraged and supported in a college savings plan to save their money toward college, the ABLE accounts are a vehicle to help people with disabilities and families to save money for expenses related to their disabilities,' said Brian Cox, director of the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, which advocates for people with disabilities.
"The accounts also can make managing money simpler, especially for people with disabilities who earn wages. Edgwater resident John Sheehan, who is autistic and has cognitive disabilities, once lost his Medicaid coverage for a month when he had $12 too much in his bank account after his Social Security check was deposited early. Sheehan, 50, also earns money from a shredding and recycling business called John's ShredCycle.
"When Joan Scott, his caretaker, realized the mistake, she was heartsick. 'I said to John, "You can't get sick,"' she recalled.
"Scott said having an ABLE account will make it easier to manage Sheehan's money and help him save for the future.
"To be eligible for an ABLE account, an individual can be any age but must have a qualified disability — intellectual, developmental or physical — that began before age 26. Money saved through the account can be used for a broad range of expenses, including housing, transportation and technology that can assist the disabled.
"The idea for the accounts was hatched about a decade ago around a kitchen table in Northern Virginia.
"Parents of children with Down syndrome were frustrated that they could set up college savings accounts for their nondisabled children, but nothing for their children with disabilities."
From the Baltimore Sun: Freddie gray case: Judge to issue verdict in officer Goodson trial Thursday
"Baltimore Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. intended to injure Freddie Gray when he drove him around in a police van shackled but without a seat belt, prosecutors said during closing arguments Monday in Goodson's murder trial.
"The officer then failed to seek life-saving medical care or drive to a nearby hospital when he realized Gray had suffered severe — and ultimately fatal — injuries, prosecutors said.
"But defense attorney Matthew Fraling said Goodson had acted as a reasonable officer would in all of his interactions with Gray. Gray himself 'created the high degree of risk' by changing his position in the back of the van, Fraling said.
"After hearing from both sides about Goodson's alleged culpability in Gray's death, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams said he will issue his verdict Thursday morning.
"In closing arguments, prosecutors alleged Goodson repeatedly breached his constitutional and administrative duties to keep Gray safe. They said he knew of the risk associated with transporting an arrestee in handcuffs and shackles but without a seat belt. He also refused to call a medic for Gray when Gray asked for one and at one point intentionally sought to injure Gray in the back of the van, they said.
"'As a result of that breach, the life of Freddie Gray was shortened,' said Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe.
"Both Bledsoe and Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow argued that Goodson had at least four opportunities to secure Gray with a seat belt and never did — compounding his disregard to a criminal degree.
"Fraling accused the prosecution of constantly shifting its theory, ignoring the context of witness testimony and asking the court to arrive at a verdict based on conjecture and speculation rather than evidence.
"The attorneys are barred by a gag order from commenting on the case outside court."