Boston City Council’s takeover won’t end well

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They must be called on it. More importantly, the takeover they are attempting – and its questionable legality – should be halted before it even gets to the November ballot.

The change – a proposed amendment to the city’s charter – would give councilors a grip not only over the city’s $ 3.75 billion annual operating budget as set by the mayor, but also a voice. in the school department budget, currently under the responsibility of the school committee.

“This budget process could very well degenerate into dysfunction and even chaos, as councilors would first compete for their issues to be included in a council budget proposal, and then put the council’s priorities in competition with those of the mayor. “said the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. predicted in a policy document released earlier this month. The end product, the office noted, would “likely be primarily a patchwork of district-focused requests from the 13 councilors.”

And for a glimpse into the budget chaos that lies ahead, look no further than this week’s massive council tantrum over the budget that Acting Mayor Kim Janey submitted earlier this month..

More importantly, the shift in power inherent in this charter change and the resulting mishmash of competing interests have the potential to undermine the city’s AAA bond rating.

Councilor Lydia Edwards, a driving force behind the proposed change, has made her position clear. “Whoever the mayor is, he has too much power. . . on the money, ”she told The Globe in December. “Ordinary Bostonians need a bigger voice.”

Janey agreed, signing the measure earlier this month, saying it “creates a way forward for city budgeting that is more democratic, inclusive and transparent.”

Of course, if Edwards, Janey, and their colleagues really believed it, they shouldn’t have taken so many shortcuts along the way.

These points were raised by Research Bureau chairwoman Pam Kocher in a letter to the attorney general’s office urging them to dismiss the ballot issue. The only public hearing on the matter organized by the council, noted Kocher, took place in the middle of a working day, in August 2020, and was followed by two working sessions “in which only selected groups were invited to make their contribution ”.

But more importantly, Kocher argued that passing this off as a simple amendment to the city charter and not as a complete overhaul “would set a dangerous legal precedent through which fundamental changes to municipal governance.” . . may proceed without following the appropriate procedures that the Tribunal [the Legislature] intended for charter reform.

A charter “review” is a much more complex process, involving either a self-government petition that goes to the Legislature for approval, or the creation of an independent commission to draft proposed changes that would then be presented. to voters – a process estimated by the Secretary of State’s office in a 1995 report to take a year or two.

Whether this is indeed an amendment or something more – and therefore whether it can be properly submitted to voters in November – is now before Attorney General Maura Healey, who has until July 5 to render a decision.

“The Municipal Law Unit is responsible for undertaking this review and rendering a written decision,” Healey’s office said in a statement, adding that the unit “may ignore political considerations.”

Not that Healey’s office has been infallible in the past, having been reprimanded and overturned by the Supreme Court of Justice for its decision to approve a poll question on the High Income Tax (known as ” millionaires ‘tax’) in 2018.

And there are some good arguments to be made – again in court, if need be – that this sweeping change in the city of Boston’s budgeting is something more than a minor tinkering with the charter. the city.

Over the past year, Councilors have found a number of ways to make their voices and preferences known, well ahead of this proposed change. Turning the city charter upside down to legitimize a new system of political bargaining cannot end well.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.


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