City Council Passes Operating Budget, and With Mayoral Melodrama Included

The City Council voted – though not unanimously – to approve the City’s Operating Budget, the School Department Budget, and the Capital Budget at its meeting on June 30, culminating what’s been a long and arduous journey that has made its way squarely into a mayoral race issue.

It was the largest City Budget passed in the history of Boston – which is typically the case from year to year in modern times. The Budget does use more than $80 million from the federal Rescue Plan funding, as well, to fund recovery efforts on many different fronts.

With Acting Mayor Kim Janey, and three city councilors – Michelle Wu, Andrea Campbell and Annissa Essaibi George – all being mayoral candidates and having a say in the City Budget process this year, the document became one centerpiece of this year’s campaigns.

That was evident in the votes on June 30, with Wu and Campbell voting against the Operating Budget – and Essaibi George voting for it and Janey clearly championing her first effort in running the process. The Operating Budget passed by a vote of 10-2.

“The budgets passed today make Boston stronger, more equitable, and will help every resident through this year of recovery, reopening, and renewal,” said Janey.  “I am proud to lead our city with funding priorities that reflect our shared values. I thank the Boston City Council and the residents of Boston for their partnership and participation in our Fiscal Year 2022 budgeting process.”

But both Wu and Campbell indicated it wasn’t a great effort.

“This budget represents a lack of vision at a moment that desperately demands it,” said Wu. “We need a new approach to the housing crisis, real reforms to the Police Department, and investments in communities of color. This budget should set the foundation for the next Mayor to implement the big changes our city deserves. Instead, it fails to adequately address our biggest challenges.”

Campbell was critical of the effort, and of using federal Rescue Act monies for budget items.

“Bostonians deserve more than a status quo budget following an unprecedented year of loss, economic instability, public health crises, learning disruption, and increased demands for systemic change,” she said. “We shouldn’t have to wait for systemic reform. Acting Mayor Janey’s budget fails to deliver true change on the most pressing issues facing our city — particularly on police reform, the opioid and homelessness crisis that folks are experiencing particularly at Mass & Cass, and giving every child access to a quality education in the Boston Public Schools. 

“The additional funds from the American Rescue Plan provide important but only temporary investment in efforts to increase mental health services, community-based violence prevention, addressing the opioid crisis, when these demand systemic reforms and long-term investment in our annual budget,” she continued.

Councilor Essaibi George said she didn’t agree with everything in the City Budget, but wasn’t interested in making it a political football in the mayoral race.

“We had a responsibility to pass the City budgets today (June 30),” she wrote on her Twitter Account. “I want to be clear that I do not agree with everything in them and critical investments are missing. But we needed to have the difficult conversations, pass them, stop playing politics and deliver for the people of Boston.”

Charlestown Councilor Lydia Edwards, who is not running for mayor, voted for all three budgets, even though she said the process is broken. She used the moment to advocate for her upcoming Charter Amendment that will go to the voters citywide on the November ballot – an amendment that would re-design the City’s budgeting process.

“The City Council…passed the operating budget for the next fiscal year,” she wrote. “Our current budget process is a broken merry go round. No one budget vote can bring systemic change. That’s why we are asking the people of Boston to change the process this fall.”

Campbell and Councilor Frank Baker voted against the School Department budget, and it passed 10-2. The vote on the Capital Budget was unanimous.

This Budget includes an additional $31.5 million in funding for the emergency relief plan, building on the previously announced $50 million. In total, the City of Boston has proposed $81.5 million to support an equitable recovery and reopening for Boston residents, workers and small businesses in partnership with the City Council, using funding the City of Boston has received from the federal government following the passage of the American Rescue Plan. Funding will be allocated to City and community programs and initiatives, focused on public health, the economy and resources for individuals hardest hit by the pandemic. Boston expects to receive more than $500 million through the American Rescue Plan to support the City’s recovery from the pandemic through the end of 2024, with millions in other federal funds going directly to schools and rental relief efforts.

The $81.5 million emergency relief plan will focus on the following priority areas:

•$14 million to support public health response:

*$7 million for COVID-19 response including mobile vaccine and testing operations and outreach

*$6 million for behavioral health and substance use, including funding for opioid treatment and services

*$1 million for maintaining digital access to City services

•$32.9 million for communities most impacted by COVID-19, including:

*$22.4 million for investments in affordable housing and housing navigation services.

*$20 million for acquisition of occupied buildings to prevent displacement.

*$2 million for additional land acquisition opportunities.

*$400,000 for housing navigation assistance and stabilization services.

*$3.5 million for addressing health disparities and social determinants of health.

*$2.5 million to tackle key gaps in social determinants of health, as outlined by the Health Inequities Task Force.

*$1 million for community violence intervention programs.

*$2 million for supporting childcare and early learning initiatives.

*$2 million for BPS student and family supports, including additional dollars for social workers to ensure a full time social worker in every school.

*$2 million for ensuring pedestrian safety through additional support to the Slow Streets program.

*$500,000 for green building retrofits.

*$500,000 for supporting language access, communications, and evaluation.

•$18.6 million to address the economic impact of the pandemic on food access, housing, arts, culture, and tourism:

*$4 million for arts and culture, including $3 million for the creative economy industry to help working artists reopen safely and $1 million to support other projects and creative professionals across the city.

*$3.1 million for programs strengthening homeownership and supporting individuals facing housing insecurity.

*$3 million for food access and equity, including initiatives to support community-based solutions, expand local growing spaces, pilot an affordable community supported agriculture (CSA) model, provide assistance with applying to safety-net programs, and destigmatize utilization of food resources.

*$3 million for expansion of Green Jobs program, building on the $1 million investment in the FY22 budget.

*$3 million for digital equity and access, including an initiative to integrate digital literacy training into job training programs to meet labor market needs and an initiative to expand Wi-Fi in public housing.

*$1 million for basic needs assistance for families not eligible for previous COVID-19 benefits.

*$1 million to expand reach of All-Inclusive Boston campaign and support the tourism industry.

*$500,000 for expansion of Young Adult jobs pilot, building on the $300,000 investment in the FY22 budget.

•$16 million for small business relief:

*$8 million to build on previous small business funds and create a new, flexible grant fund designed to help small businesses cover expenses related to their reopening, recovery, and growth.

*$7.5 million to meet existing demand for the Commercial Rental Relief Fund, designed to stabilize small businesses and prevent commercial displacement due to the pandemic.

*$500,000 for expansion of High Roads Kitchen Restaurant Relief Fund.

The allocation of this immediate funding was guided by the City of Boston’s Equitable Recovery Coordinating Committee (ERCC), which is being formed to ensure the equitable and efficient coordination of stimulus resources for the short- and long-term benefit of Boston residents, with an intentional focus on those who have been hurt most by the pandemic. The ERCC is steered by City leadership, with additional representation across City departments and external stakeholders.

The ERCC will continue to be informed by residents and community stakeholders. The $81.5 million emergency relief fund represents 15 percent of the overall $500 million federal investment that Boston expects to receive through 2024. The City of Boston will launch a citywide engagement process and work with the people of Boston to program the remaining federal funds.

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