Budget Process to Be on the Ballot, Edwards Celebrates Milestone in Budget Reform

In the divisive 2020 City Budget discussion, Councilor Lydia Edwards had any number of complaints about her vote to approve the budget, and even had her home in East Boston vandalized, likely as a result of that decision.

To counter, she moved to change the process so the Council and the public would have more say in the City Budget process – something where most of the power currently lies with the mayor. This week, after a long legislative and strategic journey, Edwards is celebrating a major milestone in getting her Charter Change amendment – which transforms the City’s budgeting process – onto the ballot for the voters to discuss and decide upon this November.

Attorney General Maura Healey issued a decision late last week approving the question for the November ballot, paving the way for Boston voters to decide if the way budgeting is done should change.

“Democracy just won,” said Edwards. “We are on the ballot.”

The decision letter from AG Healey was issued on July 2, and indicated that there was no conflict to keep it off the ballot, in opposition to a letter from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau that contended such a change could only be done through a Charter Commission process and not a vote of the people.

“Based on the Attorney General’s standard of review, we find no conflict with the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth and approve the proposed charter amendment,” read the decision letter. “During the course of our review, the Boston Municipal Research Bureau (BMRB) submitted a letter to us contending that the proposed charter amendment alters ‘key duties and responsibilities of the executive and legislative bodies by giving the City Council equal budgetary authority as the Mayor and that such a change may only be achieved by way of a charter commission…or by special act. As we stated in our February 1, 2021 decision on the first iteration of the proposed charter amendment, it is unclear whether the currently proposed charter amendment qualifies as a wholesale ‘revision’ to the charter that must be accomplished by convening a charter commission, as opposed to an ‘amendment’ that may be accomplished using the (current) procedure. Therefore, we cannot conclude that the Council’s utilization of (this) procedure creates a conflict with state law.”

While that was a victory, the decision letter did suggest a few things for the Council to consider before the measure hits the November ballot.

First, because it could easily get lost in the mayoral race drama, it was suggested that the Council engage in outreach and education efforts for the voters before election day.

Other revisions include the timeline listed in the amendment for submitting the budget, more specific language about the creation of the Office of Participatory Budgeting, and some language that referred to “county” officials when it should have been “City” officials.

“We find no conflict between the proposed charter amendment and the Constitution or laws of the Commonwealth under our standard of review,” read the decision. “We note, however, that the Council may wish to make clarifying amendments to the proposed charter amendment and engage in additional outreach and education efforts for the voters, before putting the proposed charter amendment on the ballot for a City-wide vote.”

The question should appear on the citywide Boston Municipal Ballot in November.

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