A divided City Council on Wednesday voted to send a $4.2 billion operating budget to Mayor Michelle Wu’s desk after clashing over cuts to city departments, including roughly $30 million from the Boston Police Department.
The 7-5 vote came after District 7 Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who chairs the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, laid out the amendments councilors offered that cost roughly $53 million, a small percentage of the overall budget.
The five “no” votes were At-Large Councilors Michael Flaherty and Erin Murphy, District 1 Councilor Gabriela Coletta of East Boston, District 2 Councilor Ed Flynn of South Boston, and District 3 Councilor Frank Baker of Dorchester.
The budget needed seven votes to head back to Wu, who proposed her version in April. She will have an opportunity to approve, veto or return the budget with her own amendments.
"We'll be reviewing the Council’s amended budget in the next couple of days, but have concerns about the scale and scope of cuts proposed to departments delivering key City services," a Wu spokesman said in a statement.
The Council must vote by the end of the month, when fiscal year 2024 begins. A two-thirds majority is needed to override a veto or amendments made by the mayor.
Councilors who opposed the budget voiced concerns about money for their amendments coming out of Boston Police. Flaherty said the cuts, totaling $30 million, and funding 60% of the amendments, are “too excessive.”
City services that could see decreases due to the proposed amendments include not just Boston Police, but the departments working on transportation, inspectional services, public works and veterans issues. The Boston Public Library and the Boston Centers for Youth and Families could also see decreases.
Coletta said she has many city workers in her district who have called in. She added that she is concerned about the amendments leading to “significant” layoffs within city departments.
Fernandes Anderson argued that the amendments — which add to youth employment, arts and culture, parks and “participatory budgeting” accounts — would not lead to layoffs since the changes involve money that departments may not spend.
She also sought to respond to Flynn, a U.S. Navy veteran who criticized a $900,000 cut to the city’s veterans services department. Flynn took to the floor to say the cut “hurts veterans’ families,” adding, “We’re saying ‘welcome home but by the way we’re not supporting you.’ ”
Afterwards, Fernandes said her son is a U.S. Marine. “I wasn’t making an irresponsible move,” she said. “Optically it looks crazy. But the budget is complex and multifaceted."
Other councilors who voted in favor of the budget acknowledged they were uncomfortable with the public safety cuts. The cuts could have negative and unintended consequences if they go through, District 4 Councilor Brian Worrell said. But he believes they are in the “middle” of the budget process, and he supported sending it to the mayor in order to keep the process moving.
Councilor At-Large Ruthzee Louijeune added, “This is going to go to the mayor and it will come back to us and we will decide as a body what we can move forward on. It's not the perfect solution but it's not the end."
A similar vote to pass the operating budget last week fell apart after Coletta and Worrell changed their votes towards the end of the meeting. That version of the budget carried a $42 million cut to Boston Police, as part of an effort to fund $75 million in amendments.
Councilors shrank the size and scope of their amendments over several working sessions earlier this week. Fernandes Anderson said councilors had to make their initial mark on the budget by June 14, and if they didn’t take action, the mayor’s budget proposal from April would go into effect instead.