In addition to a historic mayor’s race and a slew of City Council contests, Bostonians will decide a trio of ballot questions this general election, the voting for which is already underway.
The most weighty, albeit wonky, of these is Question 1 on the city municipal ballot, which asks voters if Boston should drastically overhaul its budget process, giving city councilors much more sway over the city’s purse strings.
The binding referendum would allow the council to modify budget appropriations. Under the city’s current structure, the council can approve or deny the mayor’s proposed budget but can transfer funds only if the mayor requests it. The system has frustrated councilors for years.
The ballot measure would allow the council to amend the budget as long as it does not exceed the amount originally proposed by the mayor. The mayor could accept or reject the council’s version of the budget and amend any line item in that version. The council would have the ability to override the mayor’s veto or amendments by a two-thirds vote.
The measure would also create an independent Office of Participatory Budgeting with an external oversight board. If passed, the proposal would take effect for next year’s budget process. If approved by voters, the proposal would not need any further approval to take effect, according to organizers behind the question.
Andres Del Castillo, executive director of Right to the City Boston and cochairman of the campaign supporting the ballot question, recently said a “yes” vote is a vote for a better budget and would bring about more democracy, transparency, and accountability to the city’s budget process.
“Currently, our elected officials closest to us, our city councilors, don’t have the ability to amend the budget or shift funding,” he said in a statement. “Yes on 1 would allow the City Council to create a budget that best reflects the values and needs of our residents.”
Critics of the ballot initiative say it could lead to a chaotic budget process.
Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, opposes the proposal, saying the city already has participatory budgeting.
“It gives power to the council to create their own budget for the city — diluting accountability of city finances from being squarely the responsibility of the mayor to 13 different councilors with different interests and constituent groups pulling for limited resources and potentially degrading our city’s bond rating,” she said.
The city of Boston’s finances, she said, are some of the strongest in the country. She pointed to that reality as the reason why Boston can continue to provide community services in difficult times and why it’s so competitive with other larger cities.
“Let’s not break the system just to placate a few loud voices,” she said.
Question 2 on Tuesday’s ballot is nonbinding and asks voters if they support a controversial electrical substation slated for East Boston.
Critics of the project have said that East Boston, which is home to Logan International Airport, is already heavily burdened with environmental problems and question whether the infrastructure is necessary. They are also concerned the site will flood, which they fear could lead to an explosion or fire.
John Walkey, who lives in East Boston and works for GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based environmental justice group, is among the critics of the proposal and hoped the referendum would serve as “one more arrow in the quiver” in the fight to block the project.
“We’d like to see a resounding ‘no,’” he said recently.
He added: “It’s a bad idea that everyone is paying for. The reality is it’s not in your backyard but it’s in your electrical bill.”
Eversource, the utility behind the project, has stated the substation is needed to meet the growing demand for electricity in East Boston and has dismissed flooding concerns.
In a Friday e-mail, an Eversource spokesman doubled down on the defense of the project, saying “this much-needed substation is critical to ensuring that we can continue to safely and reliably serve our customers in East Boston.” The substation, he said, will address local demand for electricity, support future growth, and help the city achieve carbon reduction goals.
“We’ve been actively engaged in outreach efforts with our customers in the neighborhood for their input on the process, as well as details like the visual aesthetics of the substation, and we continue to collaborate with municipal officials, elected representatives, and community organizations to address questions and concerns,” he said.
Question 3, another nonbinding referendum, asks if the current appointed School Committee structure should be changed to a School Committee elected by city residents.
Early in-person voting for the city’s Nov. 2 municipal election started Oct. 23 and ran through Friday. For vote by mail, the deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot was Oct. 27. Ballots must be received in the mail by the city or placed in one of the drop boxes located around Boston by 8 p.m. on Election Day.