It was passed, and then it wasn’t.
In a dramatic bit of intrigue at Boston City Hall, the City Council Wednesday at first passed a $4.2 billion municipal operating budget, before two councilors changed their votes, which meant the measure did not advance to Mayor Michelle Wu’s desk.
The first vote was 8-4 in favor of a proposal that included $75 million worth of amendments to Wu’s operating budget plan. Most notably, it featured a potential $42 million decrease to Boston police funding. Initial dissenting votes came from the council’s more centrist and conservative bloc: Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn, and Erin Murphy.
But later during the council’s regular Wednesday meeting, the legislative body revisited the matter, and two councilors changed their votes. Gabriela “Gigi” Coletta went from a “yes” to a “no” and Brian Worrell went from a “yes” to a “present.”
That meant the vote was 6-5-1. Without seven votes, the measure could not proceed to Wu’s desk, and is now remanded back to the council’s Ways and Means Committee.
“There were last-minute discrepancies that I noticed that ultimately erased amendments that I fought hard for and that I crafted for my district, that would better the quality of life for residents in my district because of net losses in certain city departments,” said Coletta of her vote change.
Worrell, during a meeting recess, declined to say why he changed his vote.
If the council would have passed the operating budget with its amendments, it would have sent the matter to Wu for consideration. The mayor would have been able to veto some, all, or none of the council’s ideas before sending it back to the city’s legislative body, which would need a two-thirds majority to override a mayoral veto.
But all of that is moot for now. And the council appears to be facing a tight deadline if it wants to put its stamp on the operating budget for next year.
The rules that govern the municipal budgeting process state that the council “shall take definite action on the annual budget by adopting, amending, or rejecting it” no later than the second Wednesday in June, which would be next week.
If the council cannot agree by next Wednesday, the rules say, Wu’s proposal “shall be in effect as if formally adopted by the city council and approved by the mayor.”
Before last 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.
Nowadays, thanks to a voter-approved overhaul of the budget process, the council has more power over the city’s purse strings. But it cannot propose an operating budget that exceeds the $4.2 billion total Wu outlined earlier this year. So if councilors want to add somewhere, they must subtract somewhere else.
For some councilors on Wednesday, there was the rub.
The amendments in the failed operating budget were numerous, stretching across about 30 pages. They included funding for a project manager for food justice, pay raises for parks and recreation employees, drones for Boston fire, more rodent inspectors, vending machines for menstrual products, programs that would expand the city’s tree canopy, more money for graffiti removal, bolstering senior and mental health service, Black Heritage signage, a municipal wage study, a bump in the number of youth jobs, a mentorship program involving police and youths, and other items.
Councilor Michael Flaherty said of the $75 million in council budget amendments, $42 million was funded through decreases to Boston police’s budget. He could not support that big of a cut from BPD, he said, calling it unfair to the department. He would have liked to have seen more modest budget amendments, and predicted that the mayor would have rejected some of the council’s proposals.
“We’re now taking a meat cleaver to the Boston Police Department,” said Flaherty, who chairs the council’s Public Safety Committee. “They are our partners.”
After the vote reversals and a lengthy recess, Councilor Julia Mejia said she was “really disappointed” by the proceedings, adding that the public may have a hard time trusting the council when “we can’t even get through this process.”
“There’s just so many political things happening behind the scenes,” she said.
Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who chairs the Ways and Means Committee, labeled Wednesday’s developments “no big deal, no hard feelings.”
“We don’t have to get upset, we can just work through it,” she said after the recess.
The council did not take up the $1.4 billion Boston Public Schools budget. That line item stayed in the Ways and Means Committee.