Updated June 9, 2022 at 7:39 a.m.
The Boston City Council exercised its newfound authority Wednesday, unanimously voting to rearrange $25 million in Mayor Michelle Wu’s proposed nearly $4 billion city operating budget.
That slightly less than 1% readjustment plucks money mostly from police overtime and equipment funding, and shifts it toward various council priorities, including an additional $6.7 million for Youth Engagement and Employment, $2.5 million for the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and $1.1 million for the Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion.
The council also passed the $1.3 billion Boston Public Schools budget on a 10-3 vote. Councilors Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy opposed the budget’s passage, citing issues with school system’s persistent achievement gaps, declining enrollment, transparency, safety and central office responsiveness.
The council was empowered to make line-item amendments to a mayor’s proposed budget last November when voters approved a change to the city charter.
“We used this new power to amend the budget and we delivered on exactly what the people of the City of Boston voted on,” said Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, a freshman councilor and chair of the body’s Ways and Means Committee.
“It took a lot of hard work, a lot of collaboration amongst my colleagues and some push and pull with the administration, but for the most part, I’m excited.”
The council’s operating budget amendments are divided into two types: those that repurpose a total of $8.8 million within departments, and those that take from one department to deposit it into another. The latter category shifts a total of $17 million.
In a statement, Wu said she is “grateful” for the council’s partnership through the budget process.
“The City Council’s vote today to pass the Boston Public Schools Budget will help deliver needed investments in our children and school communities,” said Wu. “I’m also excited to review the proposed amendments to the operating budget transmitted today in accordance with the new participatory budget process over the next few days.”
The council’s proposal now goes to the Wu administration. Under the new charter language, the mayor may consider the changes for the next week, then must return a spending proposal to the council.
From there, the council will have until the end of the month to either accept the mayor’s resubmission, or override it with a two-thirds vote to approve their own proposal.
Jamaica Plain Councilor Kendra Lara, who spearheaded the effort to bring more money to the largest line item reallocation to youth jobs, gave a tearful testimony on the council floor regarding a former gang-involved youth jobs advocate named Ivol Brown, who died before seeing the impact of his advocacy.
Brown was stabbed to death in 2010.
“Year after year, Ivol came and testified before the city council to ask that the Boston City Council increase the budget for youth jobs,” said Councilor Lara. “If $6.9 million means that maybe we lose 15 less young people this summer, then I think that is an incredibly worthwhile investment.”
The council took several other budget actions Wednesday, including its first passage of the $3.6 billion capital budget, which guides the next four years of spending on major investments in city facilities and infrastructure. The council is required to take two votes two weeks apart on the capital budget, and pass it by a two-thirds vote both times.
The council also unanimously passed a $40 million appropriation for the Other Post-Employment Benefits Liability Trust Fund, which pays for retiree health and life insurance benefits, as well as a $1.6 million appropriation from the city’s capital grant fund to pay for wear and tear on municipal roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.
The council did not act on Wu’s spending proposal for the city’s remaining $350 million in federal pandemic relief funding.
Back Bay Councilor Kenzie Bok, who chairs the council’s committee on COVID-19 recovery, defended the lack of action by pointing to the council’s 30 public hearings and four working sessions it took to hammer out the operating budget.
“With this amount of transformative, one-time money from the federal government, it really deserves its own process and its own attention,” Bok told GBH News. “While I think there’s broad consensus on the council for things like prioritizing housing with this funding, it really needs its own time, apart from the budget for consideration and that’s what we’ll be doing in the coming weeks.”
This story has been updated to reflect that the council’s amended budget readjusts less than 1% of Mayor Wu’s nearly $4 billion operating budget.
Produced with assistance from the Public Media Journalists Association Editor Corps funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.