The Boston City Council voted 8-5 today to approve Mayor Walsh's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, with the main issue being whether to make even more drastic changes in the police budget than the $12-million shift out of the police overtime account proposed by the mayor.
Councilors Ricardo Arroyo (Hyde Park, Mattapan, Roslindale), Andrea Campbell (Dorchester, Mattapan), Kim Janey (Roxbury), Julia Mejia (at large) and Michelle Wu (at large) voted against the proposed operating budget. Under the city charter, councilors can vote for or against the budget, but they cannot formally offer amendments to it.
Councilors on both sides praised residents who showered them with thousands of e-mails and phone calls on the issue of the police budget and racial equity - although Councilor Linda Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) issued a rebuke to some of the people who e-mailed and texted here with some particularly strong criticism. "I'll be damned if anybody questions my blackness" or commitment to structural change, she said.
Supporters of the operating portion of the $3.61-billion budget praised it for its increased funding of Boston schools and towards programs addressing homelessness and mental and public health. They warned that voting against the budget would cause a potential budget crisis - given that the fiscal year starts next week - that could mean layoffs of many city workers. And they said the fight for racial equity would continue - especially with the contract for police officers coming up for negotiation over the coming year.
Councilor Kenzie Bok (Beacon Hill, Back Bay, Fenway, Mission Hill), chair of the council's Ways and Means Committee, started more than two hours of debate by urging a yes vote on the budget. She said that a no vote risked the additions for education, homelessness and mental and public health being stripped out. And she said supporters of rejection, who wanted to negotiate with the mayor to do more about racial justice issues had failed to present "a viable counterproposal" to the mayor's budget.
She said she agreed that "in this city, we spend too much of that [budget] overpolicing our black and brown communities," but said that police overtime is baked into the budget and that the time to deal with that is during negotiations with the Boston police union. Although the council has no seat at the negotiating table, she said she could and will hold a series of hearings to figure out how to reform police over the coming months.
"I love my city and I cannot in good conscience and in this historic moment vote for this budget," Campbell said. She said black and brown people have been waiting for decades for more than incremental change and that now, in the midst of a revived Black Lives Matter movement and a pandemic disproportionately affecting minority people, it's time to take a stand and demand more.
"To those who say there is no counteroffer there is and has been for decades," she said. The city could begin by increasing the education budget even more to ensure a quality education for all students, it could reform civil service to allow the hiring of more women and minorities, it could do more to address persistent health inequities, it could review every single budget though "a racial equity lens."
"How many times in history have we told people of color to wait for another time?" she asked.
"Enough is enough and gradual will no longer do," she said.
Campbell noted the structure by which the council got the budget and derided those who preemptively blamed her and other councilors for voting no. "It is the mayor's budget that is unsatisfactory and doesn't go far enough to to respond to our residents' desperate needs. "
Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) said he struggled with the concerns of some constituents who felt more needed to be done to pare back the police budget and spend more on social programs and the concerns of other constituents outraged at possible police cuts. Like Bok, he said he could not support just rejecting the budget. "We do not know if we can prevent layoffs if this budget were to fail," he said. And like Bok, he vowed to continue the fight for racial justice. Addressing his black colleagues, he asked them to view him not as an ally, but as a "co-conspirator."
Edwards said she was disappointed she was being forced to worry about pitting legitimate calls for change with the potential impact on city workers.
She said she concluded that "I'm not willing to treat those workers as cannon fodder in a culture war." She said that the new budget will mean particular benefits for her district, which has been hard hit by both housing displacement and Covid-19 and that she had to go with that rather than "an undefined goal with an undefined timeline" that would be the result of a budget rejection.
"I'm not going to cheerlead for this budget," she said, but she also praised Bok for her leadership in calling for approval of the budget and continued work towards "structural change." She added she will soon file legislation to try to wrest ultimate budget control away from the mayor and give the council more of a say in drafting the city's yearly spending plans.
Arroyo, though, said a budget is not just numbers, but a reflection of values and that he could not vote for a budget in which just the police overtime line item - some $48 million - far outweighs budgets for community centers, fair housing, veterans and immigrant programs and other social services.
Arroyo pointed to the moment of silence - of 8 minutes and 46 seconds - the council took at the beginning of the day's meeting at his request. "It felt incredibly long, it was very painful," he said. "Now imagine waiting decades for funding in your communities and being told to wait."
Councilor Liz Breadon (Allston-Brighton) acknowledged the city is at a particularly painful time, but that, like Bok, agreed voting the budget down would not solve anything but potentially cause problems.
Like Campbell, Wu essentially asked, if not now, when? "The bread and butter that feeds structural racism are evasion and procrastination."