The Boston City Council passed Mayor Martin Walsh's annual budget on Wednesday in an unusually tight and emotional vote as councilors weighed continued pushes for police reform, the coronavirus crisis and potentially looming layoffs. The council passed Walsh's operating budget by an 8-5 vote, with councilors Frank Baker, Kenzie Bok, Liz Breadon, Lydia Edwards, Annissa Essaibi-George, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn and Matt O'Malley voting to pass the budget, and City Council President Kim Janey and councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Andrea Campbell, Julia Mejia and Michelle Wu against it. Rejecting the $3.61 billion budget would automatically have triggered what's called a 1/12 budget, which would level-fund departments but not account for contractual increases in spending. Because such a budget would leave the city short, that would have led to cuts including layoffs, Walsh's office has said. The councilors voting against the budget wanted more time to pass a spending plan that had larger structural changes including reallocating money away from the police department and into social services.
One of the most fraught budget votes in years faces the City Council on Wednesday, with the count still uncertain amid the coronavirus crisis and calls for major further reforms toward racial equity. Mayor Martin Walsh's $3.61 billion budget proposal will be up for a vote at the noon council meeting as the June 30 deadline looms to fund the city for the next fiscal year. Several councilors have publicly discussed the idea of rejecting the budget, which would automatically trigger what's called a 1/12 budget -- which would level-fund departments but not account for contractual increases in spending -- and many councilors still aren't saying how they will vote. Pam Kocher of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, an independent nonprofit city watchdog, said the city councilors should not reject the budget, as that move would cause layoffs -- especially during the pandemic, which already has caused a $65 million projected shortfall. "For a little bit more clarity and certainty about what's next we are in favor of passing a full budget tomorrow," Kochar said Tuesday.
Councilors are considering rejecting Mayor Martin Walsh's revised budget -- putting the city on track for a provisional budget that the administration warns would mean layoffs -- as they continue pushing for broader reforms and deeper cuts to the police department. In a nearly six-hour budget hearing Monday ahead of an expected vote Wednesday, councilors honed in on the prospect of a "1/12 budget" -- continuing fiscal 2020 spending levels on a month-by-month basis until a fiscal 2021 budget is approved -- as several members remain at odds with the Walsh administration over the appropriate level of cuts to the police budget. "So far we are being presented with slight changes that don't represent the type of transformative investments that so many community members, activists and residents are reaching out for," Councilor Michelle Wu said. "And we're being told that it's an either/or -- either we pass an inadequate budget or we cause mass layoffs across city departments -- and that's simply not true." Walsh -- in response to activists' calls to "defund the police" that generally mean reallocating some funds toward social services -- said he would put $12 million from the $60 million police overtime budget toward other programs.
A city councilor on Monday proposed that the City Council should get more control over the budget -- and share equal power with the mayor -- but questions remain about whether the budget process would turn "dysfunctional," a watchdog tells the Herald. City Councilor Lydia Edwards' proposed amendment to the city charter comes in the wake of calls for systemic change and a reallocation of resources away from the police department following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white Minneapolis Police officer. During the recent budget process in the city, many residents had reached out to councilors about taking money away from the Boston Police Department as momentum continued to build for the "defund the police" movement. "A lot of people were asking us to do things that we can't do because the City Council doesn't have the same powers as councils in other cities," Edwards told the Herald on Monday. The City Council can't have a line item vote.
The Boston City Council and mayor would share power over the city's budget under an amendment filed by a city councilor on Monday -- a proposal that comes in the wake of calls for systemic change and a reallocation of resources away from the police department. "It's time to break the wheel of Boston's budget making process," said City Councilor Lydia Edwards on Monday as she announced her effort to change the city charter. "This will take time, research, negotiations, and sustained conversations about what we want to invest in as a city. Until we change the budget process, we don't have an opportunity to have those conversations in a meaningful way." "I've spent a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about how to answer the calls for systemic change and investment in our future," Edwards said. "An annual up or down vote alone on the mayor's budget cannot bring about the long term change that is needed and that people are calling for.