Mayor Michelle Wu rejected a $10 million cut to police overtime spending proposed by the City Council, admonishing the body in a letter Monday for a “false reduction to the budget that would create unpredictability elsewhere.”
The council flexed its new budgetary powers last week by cutting the perennially controversial overtime budget and directing more funding to other priorities, such as youth jobs programs. Previously, the body could merely approve or reject the mayor’s budget; this year, it could make direct amendments.
Wu’s response to the council came Monday, when she chided councilors that, “as we are all aware,” state law requires the city to pay all public safety overtime hours worked, meaning cutting the overtime budget now would simply mean paying the bill later.
“This would set up the City to repeat the pattern over several years of overspending on this line item and dipping into needed reserves from other areas to cover that,” Wu said. She added that she instead intends to “rein in overtime” through other organizational improvements.
Wu’s pitch now returns to the council, which is expected to vote on it later this month.
The council has the power to pass its own version of the budget, though it would require strong unity — a two-thirds vote, or 9 of 13 councilors — to override the mayor’s veto. Last week, the body passed its version unanimously, but positions could shift in the coming weeks. Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who chairs the body’s Ways and Means Committee, said Monday afternoon she had not yet had a chance to review Wu’s response.
Instead of the overtime trim, Wu proposed a $1.2 million reduction to police spending: a $1 million cut to payroll, saved by delaying the next recruit class by two months, and a $200,000 reduction to the equipment budget. That’s in addition to a modest trim Wu had already proposed to the police budget, roughly 1 percent.
Wu approved, in whole or in part, many of the other new expenditures the council proposed last week, though in some cases she sought to significantly limit their scope. The council passed a $6.7 million increase in funding for youth engagement and employment programming, for example; Wu proposed a more modest $3.5 million and said the city would supplement its own spending with grants. She also approved the council’s proposed increases to the Office of LGBTQ+ Advancement, City Council staffing, and the 311 system, among others.
Wu was able to keep many of the council’s increases, while rejecting its largest cut, by leaning on a slight increase in revenue the city expects to receive from the state. However, she said, “that funding alone is not enough to accommodate the entirety of the Council’s suggested additions.”
While the budget still requires final approval, most of the city’s spending for fiscal year 2023 is effectively already decided. The council’s proposed changes concerned just a tiny fraction of the $3.99 billion operating budget, much of which is already committed to ongoing expenses including pensions, payroll, and debt service.
The debate over police spending has marked perhaps the most contentious chapter of a largely tranquil budget process, though so far it has caused less drama than in the recent past.
Wu herself voted against the city’s operating budget in 2020 and 2021, citing policing issues both times. In 2020, she and a number of other local officials, including four present city councilors, called for cutting the budget by 10 percent — a much larger reduction than she ultimately proposed this year.