State House: City Budget Cuts | “Sprint and Marathon”

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Sailboats in the river, Boston Harbor, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

BOSTON (SHNS) – On April 8, as COVID-19 cases were building in Boston and across Massachusetts, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh proposed a $3.65 billion fiscal 2021 budget that his administration said took into account the short-term and long-term fiscal impacts of the pandemic. The mayor proposed a 4.4 percent, or $154 million increase in total city spending, with big investments targeted for housing and education, areas of focus prior to the pandemic. Two months later, Walsh is preparing to offer a revised budget on Monday to incorporate $80 million in spending cuts.

The mayor also recently vowed no layoffs and on Friday pledged to reinvest $12 million from the police department’s overtime budget in areas that will facilitate “equity and inclusion.” “We’re in very, very tenuous economic times,” Walsh said at the end of his press conference Friday. “We’re going to be putting a budget in front of City Council Monday. We’re going to be making cuts on top of what we did with the overtime. The overtime money’s being reinvested so it’s not technically a cut from the bottom line. The state still hasn’t done their budget yet. So we have no idea if we have to go back into our budget at some point in next fiscal year and reduce line items because we don’t have the money to pay for what we’re putting in there.”

According to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, the mayor’s initial budget plan, drawing from figures used in the state budget bill that Gov. Charlie Baker offered in January, projected state aid of $473.6 million in fiscal 2021, making up 13 percent of the total city budget and representing a 2 percent increase over fiscal 2020. Baker’s budget was built on an expectation of rising state tax revenues and post-pandemic projections anticipate revenues falling by billions of dollars. State officials plan to start fiscal 2021 operating on an interim budget and say the economic and political picture is still so volatile that they can’t offer cities and towns a reliable estimate of how much local aid to expect. The House Ways and Means Committee has a July 1 deadline to offer what will be the first post-coronavirus annual state budget proposal.

Spilka: Justice Bills Will Require Sprint and Marathon

Pursuing racial justice legislation will require lawmakers to engage in “both a sprint and a marathon,” according to Senate President Karen Spilka. Spilka, who announced Wednesday that she had convened a racial justice working group to review options, told the News Service on Friday afternoon that she hopes to pass a “comprehensive bill” this session and continue work into future terms. “It is an expedited process, because we do feel the sense of urgency, and I want to do something meaningful,” she said. Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Gov. Charlie Baker have all expressed interest in tackling police reform legislation. DeLeo and Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, chair of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, outlined measures they said would be included in an omnibus bill they want to get to Baker by July 31, and Baker is expected to soon put forward his own proposal.

Spilka said the Senate’s working group, chaired by Sens. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Will Brownsberger, has met twice and discussed areas they’re looking at during a virtual Senate caucus on Friday. Topics include police officer certification and training, use of force, data collection and a “duty to intervene” for officers who witness abuses, she said. Along with police reforms, Spilka said there are “broader equity issues” to look at in areas like education, housing and economic development. “This is both a sprint and a marathon, so we will take action soon, as I said, before the session’s over, on some of the issues, and some will be more longer-term, more like a marathon and into next session.”

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