City Councilor Lydia Edwards held her first Council hearing on Aug. 6 regarding a proposed Charter Change that would re-vamp the City Budget process – providing more back and forth discussion with the administration – and called that first discussion a very positive initial step.
“What we’re doing is historic,” she said. “We’re are trying to take this Charter Change directly to the voters in 2021. The question is why and why now. This is my third City Budget in Boston and with each vote I’ve only been given and up or down vote. It’s just up or down and it’s a $3 billion decision. I don’t think I am advocating for my district with just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ In a thriving democracy the legislators hold the purse. We need an ongoing back and forth with the mayor about the City Budget. It should be a requirement of our job.”
The Boston City Council’s Committee on Government Operations held the hearing
on the proposed amendment, and it’s an amendment Edwards filed in response to the calls for systemic change in Boston and nationally regarding the City Budget. Historically, the City Council since the early 1900s has been limited in what it can and cannot do regarding the Budget. There is no way for them to negotiate or question line items or specific expenditures. As was shown in last month’s showdown on the Budget, it becomes an all or nothing situation – and voting against the Budget ends up being a vote to cut jobs of constituents and City workers.
“Having a discussion about the budget should not mean voting against the budget and sacrificing someone’s job,” she said. “I don’t think that should be on the table. People’s jobs being on the table to cut if we don’t vote for the Budget should not be part of this.”
Under Massachusetts General Laws, a member of the City Council may suggest a charter amendment. The proposal by Councilor Edwards will give Boston residents a choice in what the City’s budgetary process should be and,
if approved by voters, would give taxpayers a greater say in how their tax dollars are spent by allowing for an expanded participatory budgetary process.
She clarified that the amendment wouldn’t allow the Council to increase taxes or defund any part of government, but rather would require the Council and the Mayor’s Office to engage with one another in creating the Budget piece by piece.
Edwards said most of her colleagues were in line with the idea, and there was near perfect attendance at the meeting on Aug. 6. There were some reservations about certain parts – and one colleague did not agree with the proposal at all. However, with the initial support, there is good reason to believe, she said, that it would be voted out of Committee eventually and likely the Council too. The matter would not go to the State House or the Mayor’s Office for any sort of review afterward. It would simply be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office, and then placed on the Nov. 2021 City Election ballot.
Further hearings will look into whether the change would include being able to work cooperatively on the School Department budget as well, and right now it’s not certain if that’s possible under state law. Also, they will continue to refine the language in the question that potentially will be placed on the ballot.
“Right now the biggest step is to get it on the ballot,” she said. “All of 2021 will be discussing why we want this amendment…I’m hoping the mayor will also want a democratic question on the ballot. I think it serves him well.”
•Time for a Bunker Hill Development Zoom Meeting
Councilor Edwards this week also called for a Zoom meeting of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) of the Bunker Hill Development project – a project that was ready to hold community meetings just as COVID-19 hit the city. All of those meetings were first proposed to go online, and then they were cancelled.
Edwards is hoping the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) will consider holding a Zoom meeting of the IAG. She said it has been done for other communities, such as Newmarket and East Boston.
“I think now we’re just wasting time,” she said.
•Edwards in Favor of Remote Learning, with Exceptions
The biggest debate raging this summer – especially for families with young children – is what will happen this September with the public schools. Right now, the Boston Public Schools are poised to implement a hybrid, in-person program with a remote learning option for parents that choose to keep kids at home. The virus numbers will dictate that plan, and it could change, but some are of the opinion it should be fully remote in September.
Councilor Edwards is among them, but also said there needs to be exceptions for special needs and vulnerable students.
“There needs to be exceptions made,” she said. “It should be all remote with exceptions. There have to be exceptions. We need to slow this down now. We don’t have a vaccine yet. I think being cautious and slowly opening is much better than opening too fast and having to close schools in the middle of the year. I think that would be more disruptive to children than a slow, remote opening.”
•Kudos to Temporary Bridge
One thing that hasn’t been controversial one bit – a few would have predicted this – is the closing of the North Washington Street Bridge and the opening of the temporary bridge. The process over the last month has gone smoothly, mostly aided by historic dips in commuter traffic due to the virus restrictions on offices and businesses.
Councilor Edwards said she is very impressed with the way it has rolled out.
“That has worked out well,” she said. “I have to give credit where credit is due. The Bridge is working well.”