What is the Question Anyway?
Ballot Question 1 Changes the Budget Powers of Boston’s Mayor
The November 2nd municipal election will determine not only who will be Mayor of Boston, but also the budgetary powers of the Mayor. A quiet but very important question on Boston’s ballot, Question 1, was proposed by the City Council and asks voters if they wish to shift the budgetary powers of the Mayor to the 13 City Councilors. This question was born out of a short-term budget fight over the 2021 City Budget and will have a detrimental, long-term impact in the City of Boston.
Additionally, Question 1 asks the voters to require the City Council and Mayor to create by ordinance an independent Office of Participatory Budgeting, including an external oversight board – In fact, Boston already has participatory budgeting – the first city in the nation to do so – and doesn’t need a ballot question to do more of it nor does it need more bureaucracy.
Question 1 is a binding ballot question. The City’s official summary of Question 1 is available here.
NO or YES
A NO vote means that Boston’s budgetary structure remains the same: the Mayor will continue to be the CEO of the City, accountable to all residents for city finances, policies and programs. The City Council will continue to be the legislative and oversight partner, including authority to reject or reduce the Mayor’s budget proposals until the Mayor submits a budget that includes enough Council priorities for the Council to pass the Mayor’s budget. This current structure has yielded strong results over the years across the entire city.
A YES vote means that the City Council will have the authority to create a Council-proposed city budget and put it into competition with the Mayor’s budget proposal. Councilors would also have authority to move funding from one department to another to meet Council priorities, without the Mayor’s concurrence. The Office of Participatory Budgeting proposed in Question 1 doesn’t need approval via ballot question – the City Council and Mayor already have the power to expand Boston’s existing participatory budgeting program.
Why vote NO on Question 1?
The Research Bureau believes Question 1 is ill-advised and will harm the fiscal future of the City of Boston. The chaos and dysfunction that approval of Question 1 invites into Boston’s budgetary process will foster financial instability and lack of accountability. Instead of relying on the Mayor for the City budget, Question 1 will unnecessarily give 13 City Councilors the ability to re-write the City Budget however they and their loudest and most powerful supporters see fit. This brings politics into the process and poorer or less vocal neighborhoods would be left behind.
- Question 1 looks to derail Boston’s strong and equitable budget process. The City moved to a strong mayoral form of government so a city-wide elected mayor, and his or her administration, could have the ability to distribute resources equally across the city. While there’s always more to be done on this topic, the current mayoral-driven city budget process has improved how resources are delivered in all neighborhoods, and has made huge strides in making sure no corner of the city is left behind.
- Question 1 is unnecessary as the Council already has tools and powers that they can use to influence the city budget – tools and powers they rarely use now.
- With Question 1, accountability would be lost. The “buck” would no longer stop on the Mayor’s desk alone, but would be shared with 13 City Councilors. That could result in dangerous decisions with things like labor contracts or fully funding pensions, injecting instability into Boston’s fiscal management. When the credit rating services see those things, they would likely move to downgrade that historic ‘Aaa’ rating. Then it will be a case of 13 City Councilors passing the buck, and the buck will stop nowhere. And the Boston community, including the business community, will suffer the consequences.
Question 1 would favor those with strong social power. The nine district City Councilors will no doubt do what is best for their districts. Those who have time and are able to advocate for what they want in the budget will have a strong-hold on City Councilors – diminishing democracy and transparency.