After weeks of political jousting, the Boston City Council on Wednesday passed a $3.76 billion annual operating budget and a $1.29 billion budget for the public schools on the eve of the new fiscal year.
The operating budget passed 10-2, with Councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu, both mayoral hopefuls who are running against Acting Mayor Kim Janey in this year’s race, voting against the measure. The public schools budget also passed by a 10-2 vote, with Councilors Frank Baker and Campbell opposed.
Questions swirled in recent days whether either Janey-proposed budget would receive enough council support to pass, and the approvals spared the acting mayor a political setback.
“It was definitely not a sure thing,” Councilor Kenzie Bok, the chairwoman of the council’s ways and means committee, said after the meeting. “But I’m super grateful to my colleagues for engaging in that process in good faith and getting us there in the end.”
Last week, the council expressed dissatisfaction with Janey’s proposed operating budget, sending the measure, along with the schools’ budget, to its ways and means committee in what was seen as an unusual rebuke.
In an effort to reach consensus on the budget, the council held a working session Friday, a hearing Monday, and another working session Tuesday. Councilors have pushed for greater investments in green jobs, the opioid and homeless crisis in the area known as “Mass and Cass,” and a youth jobs program, among other initiatives.
In response to the council’s feedback after last week’s meeting, the Janey administration proposed a $31.5 million supplemental appropriation that addressed such concerns and included other measures, such as $15 million to make housing units permanently affordable. That addition, which Bok believed was unprecedented, convinced a decisive number of councilors to approve the operating budget.
“I think this budget will pass,” Councilor Lydia Edwards said before the vote. “Like a kidney stone, but it will pass.”
Councilor Ed Flynn was among those who shared criticisms of the operating budget, but he said voting against it would create significant financial complications that could slow the city’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I believe that this budget is making some much-needed investments that help to address some of the most pressing issues facing our city,” he said.
Campbell, however, dismissed the spending plan a “status quo” budget.
“We shouldn’t have to wait for systemic reform,” she said in a statement. “Acting Mayor Janey’s budget fails to deliver true change on the most pressing issues facing our city.”
Wu, who joined Campbell in opposing the operating budget, said it “represents a lack of vision at a moment that desperately demands it.”
“We need a new approach to the housing crisis, real reforms to the Police Department, and investments in communities of color,” she said in a statement.
The third councilor running for mayor, Annissa Essaibi George, voted in favor of both budgets. She stressed that the supplemental appropriation would provide funding that would allow every school to have a full-time social worker, which she described as a step in the right direction. She also hailed funding that will help restaurants, job-seeking youths, and immigrants, but added that she would have like to have seen more investments to aid small businesses and increases in access to city services.
“I acknowledge this far-from-perfect budget leaves a lot of work for us to do,” she said.
Had the operating budget not passed, the city would have entered the new fiscal year with a temporary budget known as a 1/12, which would require the city to fund services at the previous year’s levels. But the city would still have to pay the new year’s costs, which would create budget gaps in various departments.
The council has the power to accept or reject the budget. It can also reduce the budget but has no authority to add to it. Councilors can transfer funds only at the mayor’s request. Janey needed seven “yes” votes from the 12 voting councilors for the operating budget to pass.
Tensions between Janey and the council have surfaced in recent weeks.
Earlier this month, the council approved a rule change empowering it to remove Janey as council president, which would hypothetically strip her of the acting mayor title. And there have been recent rumblings that some councilors are upset with what they perceive as poor communication from Janey’s administration on an array of issues.
The council also passed a $3.2 billion capital plan for fiscal years 2022 through 2026.