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Council owes Boston voters timely decision on police pay

Regardless of where they land on the issue of a 25.4 percent pay hike over six years for Boston police officers, the Boston City Council owes both the taxpayers and the police a timely decision. Delaying the verdict past the Nov. 5 election would be a disservice to both.

Several members of the council, including Bill Linehan, Ayanna Pressley, and council president Stephen Murphy, take umbrage at having to deal with such a controversial matter. But the council is the only backstop against reckless arbitration awards like the one that attempts to put police officers on an equal financial footing with the city’s firefighters. What it really would do, if approved, is put the city on the hook for more than $80 million and set off a race among other public-safety unions for similar-sized raises, causing a run on the city treasury.

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A recent hearing on the contract ended before the councilors had sufficient opportunity to hear important testimony, including opposition to the award from the independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau. Some councilors are hoping to receive a more in-depth explanation from the arbitrator himself. There will be an opportunity for additional testimony in the coming days. But it is also increasingly clear that some councilors don’t want to go on the record before Election Day to avoid alienating either the police union or fiscally prudent taxpayers.

In a recent interview, Murphy said, “I want the vote by the end of October.’’ But there are few signs around City Hall that Murphy or anyone else on the council is working in earnest toward that goal. Only two more council meetings are scheduled before the election. If this vote is going to take place, it needs to be soon.

A “no” vote sends the parties back to the bargaining table. That would be the best result because it delivers the message that the long-term sustainability of the city trumps the demands of a powerful municipal union. But a “yes” vote at least would give the new mayor a chance to establish priorities without a big question mark hanging over the city budget.

Councilors often chafe at what they see as a lack of legislative power in the city’s strong-mayor form of government. Yet faced with an opportunity to show strength, members appear to be looking for an escape hatch. It’s the kind of faintheartedness that voters should take into account on Election Day.

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