The Eight Streets Neighborhood Association on any normal year would have spent their December meeting in The Eagle on Tremont Street enjoying pizza and drinks and neighborhood hospitality.
Instead they spent the evening on Zoom and conducted their Winter meeting online, a meeting that was uplifted by a comprehensive update from State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz.
Michlewitz has been providing updates on the State Budget and State finances to Eight Streets throughout the pandemic, which is most appropriate due to his being the chair of the Ways & Means Committee. On most years, that would be a plum spot to be, but during COVID-19’s budget challenges, Michlewitz often finds himself on an island, he said.
Nevertheless, things are looking much better than the update in the fall when the state’s discretionary spending budget was looking at a catastrophic $6 billion cut. In the end, the deficit turned out to be a $3.6 billion cut, which was filled in partially with the Rainy Day Fund.
“The shortfall came in at $3.6 billion,” he said. “That’s nothing to sneeze at, but was much more palatable than the $6 billion we thought it would be in late spring and early summer. We were able to make no drastic cuts to our state programs, which is remarkable considering where we were.”
He said they used $1.2 billion out of the Rainy Day Fun – the largest use ever – to plug up some of the shortfall. The Fund was at $3.5 billion at the time, so some is still left over to assist future shortfalls in the years beyond this budget cycle.
“We’re hesitant to use the Rainy Day Fund like that because it affects our bond rating, but these were very difficult circumstances,” he said.
Another big issue on the horizon that was passed in the House was the Police Reform Bill, which Michlewitz voted for. That legislation over the last week or so has been bantered about by Gov. Charlie Baker, who has asked for changes.
For Michlewitz, the big change in the Police Reform Bill he voted on was the establishment of a state Civilian Approval Board – which acts like a licensing board for doctors or cosmetologists or any other professional license. Standards are put in place, and every officer must pass them and adhere to them to be certified. They can be de-certified as well if there is bad behavior.
“This would create a set of standards for police officers all over the state to be held up to,” he said. “We have a lot of good police officers in Boston Police Department, but we do have bad actors locally and nationally. This Board would create an opportunity for these police officers to be disciplined.”
Michlewitz also said he was very happy with the way mail-in voting went in the Primary and General Elections in Boston. There were some hiccups he said, but generally it was a very smooth first-time effort.
“For it being the first time, it was seamless,” he said. “Most of all, it increased access to the ballot box.”
He said he believed it was here to stay.
Michlewitz also touched on the South End Small Business Tour he took right after the Thanksgiving holiday. He said it’s time for the federal government to deliver a stimulus package to help restaurants and shops in the neighborhood.
“It blows my mind we are beyond one month after the election and we still don’t have a Stimulus Package together,” he said. “It’s going to help restaurants and small businesses and expand unemployment insurance and extend credit lines. It’s also COVID-19 testing too. We put some money in at the state, but clearly the testing lines are getting longer.”
•The Butcher Shop Seeks All Alcohol License
Eight Streets heard a request from The Butcher Shop on Tremont Street for an all-alcohol license upgrade, the spot not only having a beer-wine-cordials license.
Attorney Kristin Scanlan said they haven’t yet applied to the City License Board, and wanted to get neighborhood input first. The idea, she said, is not to turn the place into a bar, but to be able to offer patrons full cocktails and martinis to pair with dinner.
The Barbara Lynch-owned spot has been around since 2003, and would always been focused on the chef’s award-winning cuisine and not alcohol.
“Barbara is first a chef and food will always be important and all our restaurants have kept their for the entirety during their time,” Scanlan said.
They plan to file for their license before Christmas.
•Wreaths in ESNA
The neighbors in Eight Streets for the first time put out about 30 wreaths on light poles throughout the neighborhood. It was the first time the Association has done such a thing, but they hope to keep it going next holiday season as well.