City Council’s push for new budget powers clears key hurdle

A proposal to hand new budgetary powers to the Boston City Council cleared a key hurdle Friday after Attorney General Maura Healey’s office gave its OK to the measure.

Healey’s office found their proposal does not conflict with state laws, paving the way for the measure to appear on the citywide ballot this fall. City Councillor Lydia Edwards, one of the top proponents of the measure, plans to meet with the city’s elections commission to draft the question as it will appear on the ballot.

“Democracy just won,” Edwards said on Twitter, after Healey’s office released its opinion on the proposal.

The Healey decision came days after the City Council passed spending plans for fiscal year 2022, and last-minute clashes between councillors and Acting Mayor Kim Janey over what to include in the city’s budget. A compromise, involving a $31.5 million supplemental budget that included funding for social workers in schools and youth jobs.

Under the current city charter, the 13-member council can reduce or reject parts of the mayor’s proposed multibillion-dollar budget, but they cannot increase the budget or add to other parts of it.

The proposal calls for the mayor and the City Council to hold budget-writing powers “together, with the power to modify in whole or in part an appropriation order or an item within an appropriation order...excepting the powers to originate an appropriation order, which shall be reserved for the Mayor.”

The proposal calls for the council to be able to override, by a two-thirds vote, any budget amendments, in whole or in part, in addition to overriding an overall budgetary veto by the mayor.

The independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau argued against the proposal revamping the budget process, saying it would alter “key duties and responsibilities of the executive and legislative bodies by giving the City Council equal budgetary authority as the Mayor.”

Councillors first proposed a version of the charter amendment on Dec. 9, and redrafted it after Healey’s office flagged conflicts with state law in February. Councillors unanimously approved the redraft in May.

While finding no conflict with state laws with the latest version of the proposal, “(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,” Healey’s office said in its July 2 letter to councillors.