Mayor-elect Wu will have less power over budget than predecessors

BOSTON — Mayor-elect Michelle Wu was involved in eight fiscal budgets during her time on the Boston City Council. Her ninth is going to be a lot different, and not just because she’ll be mayor.

On the same night Wu became the first woman and person of color elected mayor of Boston, voters overwhelmingly approved Question 1, a charter amendment that shifts power over budgetary decisions to the Boston City Council.

Before Question 1, Boston’s mayor would propose a budget and the city council could adopt it or reject it or reduce specific items. Under the amendment approved Nov. 2, the mayor and city council hold budgetary powers together. The Boston City Council will now “have the ability to amend the budget by reallocating funds among existing or new line items,” according to the city’s website.

Under the new changes, the Boston City Council can also override a mayoral veto and enforce deadlines to keep the budgetary process moving. The city council’s amended budget cannot exceed the total budget amount proposed by the mayor.

City Councilor Lydia Edwards said she pushed to get Question 1 on the ballot after COVID-19 threw the city into financial uncertainty in 2020.

“People were asking us to do things with the budget or to consider different things that we really just didn’t have the power to do,” Edwards said. “What I wanted was more than anything to change the system so it’s not just a yes or no on a $3.7 billion [budget].”

Wu supported Edward’s amendment while on council and as a candidate for mayor. Wu said Monday she hopes it will speed up the budgetary process and get more people involved in the process.

“It often feels like we’re waiting far too late to engage the public in conversations on how we will be spending taxpayer dollars to really implement a vision on where Boston should go,” Wu said Monday. “We’re thinking about how to really make [the budget] a more transparent, community-engaged process.”

Pam Kocher, president of the government watchdog group Boston Municipal Research Bureau lobbied against Question 1 because she believes it could open the door for special interest groups and make a difficult budget process even harder.

“If the city council gets to create its own version of a budget and put it in competition with the mayor’s, who is ultimately responsible? You sort of fracture authority on your finances. That can get pretty messy,” Kocher said.

But Edwards said her amendment simply introduces more democracy into City Hall.

“I don’t know if it takes a lot of power away [from the mayor’s office]. I do think it helps us function more as the modern city we always claim to be,” Edwards said.