After more than two hours of discussion, the Boston City Council voted virtually via Zoom on Wednesday to pass the FY21 operating budget, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) budget, and the capital budget.
The operating budget was passed 8-5, the BPS budget was passed 11-2, and the capital budget was passed unanimously. The Council also voted to transfer funds from the Parking Meter Fund and the Commonwealth Transportation Infrastructure Enhancement Trust Fund into the Capital Grant Fund, as well as to approve an appropriation of forty million dollars to the Other Post-Employment Benefits (OEPB) Liability Trust Fund.
Many Bostonians have participated in this year’s budget process from all districts in the midst of a civil rights movement and a worldwide pandemic, and have spoken out on issues that are important to them and where they would like to see change. Councilors were not in compete agreement about whether or not to pass the operating budget, as some felt the proposed budget does not do enough, while others were afraid of what would happen if it did not pass and suggested that more work can be done after it is passed.
District Eight City Councilor Kenzie Bok, who is also the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, explained that Mayor Walsh resubmitted the operating budget on June 15 after an initial rejection without prejudice by the Council, and that there is a legal requirement that the capital budget be approved twice with a 2/3 vote by the City Council with votes at least two weeks apart.
“This budget comes before us at a very hard time,” Bok said. Over the past few months, she said the Committee on Ways and Means has held 28 hearings and 9 working sessions on the budget, where “scores of the public have testified” on many issues, especially on those surrounding racial injustice, police brutality, and public health as the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing racial disparities and inequities in the City.
Bok recommended the passage of all budget dockets, including the capital budget, operating budget, education budget, and funds from the Parking Meter Fund and the Commonwealth Transportation Infrastructure Enhancement Trust Fund to be used for capital projects. She personally voted in favor of all.
The overall budget is up less than four percent, Bok said, but the affordable housing budget is up 40 percent. The Budget increases funds for schools by $80 million and by $14 million for public health. It also includes more funds for food and language access, and well as more money for seniors.
If the budget was not passed, it would have gone to a 1/12 budget until a new one can be passed. Bok said that if this were to happen, “we lose these gains” and go back to previous budget allocations.
Bok said that if her colleagues “had a viable plan, I would be with them on this.” She said that some of them have said that “a 1/12 budget for a couple weeks is a small price to pay,” but she does not feel there is a “viable counter-proposal” and that “time is actually against us.”
She said that she agrees with the many people who have called for a 10 percent cut in the police budget for reallocation to community services and programs, and said that the Committee on Ways and Means will “pursue that goal” by holding a series of hearings in the near future discussing practices and institutions that could receive reallocated funds out of the police budget.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo voted against the budget, and listed several important departments whose budgets were still lower than the Boston Police Department (BPD) overtime budget.
“This budget does not go nearly far enough in meeting needs,” Arroyo said. “Imagine waiting for decades for funding in your communities and being told to wait with an impending recession.”
He said that the “realities in Boston are stark. Does this budget reflect the love that I have for my communities? Does it create enough opportunities for those that seek them?…Is this operations budget just? Is it equitable? The answer is no and so is my vote.”
Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George voted in favor of the budget and said that “we know this process is one of our most critical responsibilities. My vote today does not mean that this is a perfect budget.” Councilor Flynn also said he was in favor, and said he worried about the job losses that could occur for city employees if the budget didn’t pass.
She said that “this is the foundation for the real work that happens after the budget process to build lasting change.”
In response to claims that there is no counter proposal, Councilor Andrea Campbell said that there are “no shortage of actionable steps the mayor could take,” including reviewing budgets of every department to “be sure it’s evaluated through a racial equity lens.”
She said that “delaying and resubmitting” the budget “in a timely manner should not be unreasonable” and could be done in a way where City employees do not lose their jobs.
“We need a budget that residents in every single neighborhood in the City of Boston feel is working for them,” Campbell said. “We are all feeling and seeing the cost of inaction.” Campbell voted against the operating budget and the BPS budget/
City Councilor Lydia Edwards voted in favor of the school budget and the capital budget, and although she did also vote in favor of the operations budget, “I’m not going to cheerlead this budget like some of my colleagues did,” she said.
“Voting no on this is not going to bring about systemic change we need at this time,” Edwards said.
She said that this year she will pass the home rule petition reforming the Zoning Board of Appeal and including seats for an environmentalist and and urban planner, as well as “change the standard for which we grant various exceptions to the rule.”
She said she will also “thoroughly examine and cut back on the police overtime budget,” as well as overhaul the Council charter that “structurally changes how we allocate funds and changes our budgetary powers as a City Council,” she said in a statement.
Councilor Flaherty voted in favor of the entire budget, and said that this budget is “responsible, it’s sensible, and it’s workable. We need financial predictability and stability now more than ever.” He added that the police “do tremendous work for our city,” and said he would be voting in favor of all three budgets. Councilor Frank Baker agreed that the “responsible thing to do is to pass this budget,” and also voted in favor.
O’Malley also voted in favor of the entire budget. He said that if the budget passes, the City would “start July 1 with new investments funded in part by cuts to the police overtime budget. A vote against this means a return to the old budget without these changes.”
Councilor Michelle Wu voted against the operating and the BPS budgets. and said she believes that more time is needed to discuss and push for more change.
She said she is concerned about the education budget as well as the police overtime budget, saying in a statement that “this proposal makes insufficient progress in creating accountability,, appropriately funding public health, and making investments in housing stability, education equity, and economic access, particularly for communities of color.”
Councilor Julia Mejia, who pointed out the fact that she won her seat by one vote, said she wanted to make sure she represents the “people who put me in this seat…”
She said that “enough is enough,” and if the Council is “serious about change” then it has to “change the way we do business.” She voted against the operating budget and for the BPS and capital budgets.
Councilor Breadon voted in favor of the entire budget and said that “this is a momentous moment for me as a new councilor,” and praised the way the budget process went “in the middle of a huge public health crisis.”
Council President Kim Janey voted against the operating budget and said she supports the investments in BPS and the capital budget, “but I have deep concerns about our operating budget and the work that remains.” She said that regardless of how the vote turned out, more work needs to be done and change will continue.
“Now is the time for us to take bold action,” she said.