Several observers and prognosticators of Boston City politics are giving a tip of the hat to the astute political path Councilor Lydia Edwards walked over the past year in getting her Charter Amendment for radical change in City budgeting past the Council and signed by Acting Mayor Kim Janey.
The complexity and detail of the amendment can sometimes overshadow the fundamental change that it would bring about. Edwards pointed out it has never happened before that Bostonians could have this much direct participation in the City Charter. Most Charter Changes go through a different process, and are reliant upon a full vote of the State Legislature. Using a different process few knew about, Edwards pushed the Charter Change to a vote of the public instead.
On Monday, Janey signed the measure, and pledged to allocate even more money to the participatory budgeting piece of the Charter Amendment – an charter change that would allow the Council to have more say in the give and take of pieces of the City Budget and would also introduce a public participatory budgeting program to the process. Now that the measure is approved at the City level, it has to be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office, and if it meets muster, it would be placed on the November ballot and would be up to the voters to approve or reject it.
This week, Councilor Edwards said getting the amendment passed was tough work over the course of more than a year, but it was all done due to a promise she made during last summer’s frustrating budgeting process – when many outside observers learned the Council has little power at the moment to negotiate or change the budget. They can either vote it down or vote it through. That, said Edwards, is something she hopes Boston voters want to change in November.
“I kept my word,” she said. “I voted for the budget last year, and caught hell for it from a lot of people. I also said I would come back with something stronger and better. I made a promise that people would have more of a voice and could choose their system. I fought quietly diligently and consistently to get it this far and I want to thank my staff and advocates and of course my colleague on the City Council.”
The matter had passed the Council unanimously in May.
Janey said on Monday she had supported the measure while on the City Council and continues to support it. As an added bonus, she pledged an additional $1 million in the FY 22 City Budget to create the first Office of Participatory Budgeting – all of that dependent on whether or not the measure clears Boston voters.
“On my first day as Mayor, I promised to bring new voices to the table and include those who felt shut out by City Hall,” said Janey. “Signing this charter amendment delivers on that promise and creates a path forward for city budgeting that is more democratic, inclusive, and transparent. I want to thank the advocates and the Boston City Council for their partnership on this important issue.”
If the charter amendment passes this November, both the City Council and the Mayor will have the authority to amend the City’s budget in whole or in part, a power currently only held by the Mayor. Independent of the ballot measure, the amendment also establishes the Office of Participatory Budgeting, which will lead the Administration’s efforts around expanding opportunities for community involvement in the City’s annual budgeting process. Guided by a community-based Participatory Budgeting Committee, the Office will be tasked with determining resident priorities when it comes to the City’s investments.
“We are so grateful for Mayor Janey’s support of this charter amendment. Participatory budgeting will allow for residents across Boston to have direct decision making in our tax dollars, and strengthens our city’s democracy, transparency, and civic participation,” said Roxbury-based activist Armani White.