Flexing its new budgetary power, the Boston City Council Wednesday unanimously sent Mayor Michelle Wu an amended $3.99 billion operating budget that included a $13 million cut in police spending, most of it from reduced overtime.
Wu can veto or accept the council’s various amendments before she returns it to the council for final passage. The council could override any vetoes with a two-thirds vote.
In a statement, Wu said she was “grateful for the council’s partnership through the budget process, which started with our public listening sessions a few months ago.”
“I’m also excited to review the proposed amendments to the operating budget transmitted today in accordance with the new participatory budget process over the next few days,” she said.
At the council’s meeting in City Hall, Councilor Frank Baker said he was “anxiously looking at” how the budget will look when Wu returns it to the council in the coming weeks.
“How much of what we did yesterday and the previous days, how much is actually going to come back to us?” he asked.
Councilor Julia Mejia said it was important for Wu’s administration to recognize the council’s new ability to press for their constituents’ needs in the budget.
“Send back the budget with the needs and wants of this council, right? Anything other than that will be completely unacceptable,” she said.
Until this year, the council could only approve or deny the mayor’s overall budget proposal and could not move money between line items unless the mayor requested it. That system had long frustrated councilors.
The council can now amend the budget as long as it does not exceed the amount originally proposed by the mayor. In other words, every increase in funding must correspond with a decrease elsewhere.
Wednesday’s vote followed 30 public hearings on departmental budgets and associated capital projects, including two sessions dedicated to public participation, and four working sessions.
For the most part, the council’s slate of amendments represented drops in the budgetary bucket; $125,000 to hire a director of waterfront planning; a $50,000 boost for English as a second language courses; an additional $150,000 to fund LGBTQ events.
One of the bigger changes was an increase of $6.7 million for youth engagement and employment programming. Among the biggest reductions was $13 million from the Police Department, lowering its budget to just under $383 million.
That move included nearly $10 million in reductions to police overtime, something that has proven to be a tricky proposition in recent years since it is one of the few spending categories that can exceed its budget. The department chronically exceeds its budgeted overtime.
Wu had proposed trimming the policing budget by about 1 percent, a modest decline that disappointed reform advocates who have pushed for sharp cuts but angered the department’s primary union. After Wednesday’s vote, some advocates applauded the increase in funding for youth jobs and reductions to the police budget.
“We’re glad money is moving and police are being defunded too,” Khalil Howe, a 24-year old Dorchester resident, said in a statement. “This is what defunding the police means — putting money into areas like youth jobs and affordable housing that actually keep our communities safe.”
In other business, the council approved a $1.3 billion budget for the public schools by a 10-3 vote.
“The City Council’s vote today to pass the Boston Public Schools budget will help deliver needed investments in our children and school communities,” Wu said.
The council also authorized a $3.6 billion capital budget, which requires a second approval for passage.