During the contentious debate over Boston’s fiscal 2021 operating budget, a small but vocal group of residents grabbed the spotlight and demanded action to reallocate resources.
They wanted to reallocate money from the Boston Police Department and hold up the entire budget — and potentially the paychecks of loyal city workers and vendors. It was contentious, to say the least, and many councilors were targeted after voting in favor of the city budget.
It was out of that budget protest that a potential long-term change was born, one that is on the Nov. 2 ballot and would change the way that Boston has handled its finances for almost three decades, dating back to when elected mayors began to turn around the finances and improve the city’s once-embarrassing credit rating that stood in the 1980s. To placate a small number of voices, councilors proposed and passed this charter change, which has now made it all the way to the ballot.
While protesters from the 2021 city budget fight did not return in the same way for the 2022 city budget process, Question 1 continued its journey. It is paramount now that voters in Boston vote “No on 1″ and stop what will be a detrimental, long-term change brought about by short-term angst.
The Boston Municipal Research Bureau is no stranger to sounding the alarm on unwise fiscal measures, and Question 1 is another such occasion where we hope to let the public know the pitfalls of such a change. Question 1 takes away the all-important budgeting power of the mayor and shares it with 13 city councilors who would be able to write, rewrite, and override the mayor’s budget proposal as their most powerful constituencies and private interests see fit.
In light of 2020, when protests gave birth to a major charter change like Question 1, what happens when protestors return at some point in the future and demand inequitable resources within the city budget? Will councilors wilt once again and give in to those voices, as was the case with the proposal of Question 1, or will they stand up?
Most likely any such situation will lead to unwise compromise, blame-shifting, delays, and chaos within a fiscal system that now works well and has resulted in the highest credit rating a city can achieve (AAA, by Moody’s, in 2020).
In less than a week, Boston will elect its first female mayor to lead the city — and that includes leading in the space of budgeting and resource allocation. Every white male mayor for generations has enjoyed the important budgeting powers that a strong mayoral government allows, with oversight from the City Council. Now that we are going to have someone leading the city with a new perspective, with a different definition of what’s important to Boston, Question 1 lurks as a tool to strip that new female mayor of the powers every man before her has enjoyed.
Where is the equity in that? It doesn’t seem like the right course of action given all that we’ve learned from 2020 and the broad societal changes that we continue to undergo.
While we move forward to what will be a new place in our history, Question 1 moves us backward to a day long ago when loud voices governed budgeting decisions; a day when city funds were directed to neighborhoods and constituencies that held unequal power over decision-makers; and when low-income neighborhoods made up of immigrants and people of color routinely lost out year after year.
People accepted such things back then. We should not accept them now when we’re on the precipice of municipal tectonic change.
Question 1 will be a disaster for the finances of the city. But it also will be a disaster for residents who are anxiously awaiting a city that is moving forward to a brand new place in 2022.
We must not also move backward by approving Question 1. We must vote no on 1 to keep our city moving forward.
Pam Kocher is president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau and a Boston resident.