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Mayor, city council at odds over budget

Wu vetoes council’s budget cuts, faces possible override

Saraya Wintersmith, GBH News
Mayor, city council at odds over budget
Mayor Michelle Wu speaks with reporters gathered at Horatio Harris Park in Roxbury. BANNER PHOTO

Mayor Michelle Wu rejected the Boston City Council’s amended budget Monday, responding with her own revised spending plan that shrinks the council’s proposed multimillion-dollar cuts to the city’s police and fire departments.

Wu’s rejection is the latest step in the city’s new budget process that gives the council a larger hand in crafting a budget. The change, approved by voters last November, allows the council to make line-item amendments and override a mayor’s budget proposal with a two-thirds vote.

Last week, the council unanimously responded to Wu’s first draft budget with their own proposal which reallocated $14 million in public safety dollars from city police and fire to other priorities like youth jobs and housing. The reduction echoed police reform advocates’ calls over the last two years to tamp down overtime spending, an idea Wu supported as an at-large councilor.

In a letter addressed to the chamber Monday, Wu pointed to the council’s $10 million reduction of police overtime and characterized it as unsound.

“As we are all aware, due to state laws that require payment of all public safety overtime hours worked — regardless of size of a budgeted line item — this would set up the City to repeat the pattern over several years of overspending on this line item and dipping into needed reserves from other areas to cover that,” she stated. “Therefore, I cannot include a false reduction to the budget that would create unpredictability elsewhere.”

As a mayoral candidate, Wu campaigned on the idea of achieving an overtime budget decrease through renegotiations of the long-standing contracts between the city and its police unions.

In her letter answering the council’s move, the mayor said her latest budget preserves $1.2 million in police department reductions — $200,000 from equipment and $1 million from personnel — in recognition of the council’s unanimous advocacy. Wu’s proposal would delay the next police recruit class by two months.

The fire department, which would have lost $1.8 million in the equipment budget under the council’s plan, loses only $300,000 in equipment costs in Wu’s revised budget.

Wu’s revision also slightly increased the overall budget, “due to net state aid revenue adjustments in the House budget passed this spring,” but, that funding, she said “is not enough to accommodate the entirety of the Council’s suggested additions, and it is still subject to the legislature’s budget reconciliation process and final approval.”

Wu also rejected the council’s $8.8 million of intradepartmental amendments — those that attempt to repurpose money within a department’s budget.

“Directives about how to staff or execute public work within a departmental budget category constitute executive action, which is reserved to the Mayor under the City Charter, and are not within the City Council’s legislative authority to amend appropriations,” the mayor’s letter said.

Wu said she was able to accommodate many of the council’s other proposed amendments at reduced amounts. Some examples include $3.5 million for youth jobs (down from the council’s $6.7 million) and $200,000 for the Office of Black Male Advancement (down from the council’s $600,000).

The Boston City Council now has until the end of the month to either approve or override the mayor’s budget. Nine councilors are needed to override the mayor’s revised proposal.

Even though the council sent its proposal to the mayor with an anonymous vote, the tally could shift as councilors turn their attention to allocating the city’s remaining federal pandemic relief funds.

The council’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 15.

Saraya Wintersmith covers Boston City Hall for GBH News.