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Mayor Wu proposes $4.3 billion city budget

Increased investment in schools, police, early education

Isaiah Thompson
Mayor Wu proposes $4.3 billion city budget
Mayor Michelle Wu announces her fiscal year 2024 recommended budget proposal. PHOTO: ISABEL LEON, MAYOR'S OFFICE

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu last week announced her recommended nearly-$4.3 billion city budget for the city’s fiscal year 2024.

The budget recommendation represents a roughly $274 million, or 7%, increase from this year — a sign that Boston remains on fiscally sound footing, despite the ongoing recovery from COVID-19 and the absence of federal stimulus dollars that helped support the budget last year.

Calling this a “budget for families,” the recommendations overall represent modest increased investment in priorities Wu already identified and shaped during her first year as mayor — a point she herself acknowledged in an April 12 breakfast presentation for City Council members and other guests.

“We are looking to ensure that Boston is, of course, charting new ground and leading the way on all the major issues that we’re working on. But this budget really is an intentional investment in getting back to basics as well,” Wu said.

“There are many things, because of the all-hands-on-deck emergency nature of the last few years, that didn’t get as much attention … So we want to make sure that rather than just always announcing new things, and certainly there’s some great new things here, the focus also has to be on doing what we already do well and making sure that the work is sustainable for the workforce that is undertaking that work.”

Among the larger increases in Wu’s proposal are those for housing, human services, streets, and arts and culture.

The budget would also provide $451,000 to fund a new city planning department, part of Wu’s longstanding goal of separating planning and development functions in the city, which until now have both been overseen by the Boston Planning and Redevelopment Authority.

Wu’s proposal would also increase the Boston Police Department budget — the city’s largest line item after schools and a source of controversy in recent years — by about 1.5%, an increase of some $10 million. 

The mayor’s budget recommendation marks just the first part of a budget process that will last into the summer, as the recommendation is taken up by the City Council.

Speaking after Wu, Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson, who represents Roxbury and chairs the Council’s Committee on Ways and Means — which oversees the budget process and will be holding public budget hearings into the summer — said that now comes the hard part. 

With the budget moving to the City Council for debate, Fernandes Anderson said, various interests will be lobbying for resources — and it will be up to the Council to weigh those demands.

“The departments make recommendations for the budget, then the councilors make recommendations and the community makes recommendations. The balance of the three, I think, is going to rely heavily on the amendment process,” said Fernandes Anderson. “Everyone’s fighting for and representing their district. But in the end, there’s only so much money to move around.”

She added, “I look forward to transparency. I look forward to effective communication. I look forward to working with all of you as leaders.”

Support from councilors

The mayor’s budget recommendation, meanwhile, has received largely positive reviews from those city councilors who responded to the Banner’s request for comment.

Councilor Kendra Lara, who represents Jamaica Plain and West Roxbury, said: “I think the framing that we got from the administration about really building a Boston that works for every generation was seen in the investments all the way from universal pre-K to youth to seniors. We really saw the mayor present not only guiding principles for the budget this year but also investments that were in alignment with those principles.”

Lara said she will be advocating for funds to advance the siting of a new senior center in West Roxbury, and will be paying close attention to the budget for Boston Public Schools with an eye toward services and funding for special-needs students.

Councilor Liz Breadon, who represents Allston-Brighton, called the recommendation “a bold, visionary budget that has an emphasis on youth development and job training,” and said she will be looking to see investments in pedestrian safety, open space and parks in her densely-developed district. 

Councilor Gabriela Coletta, who represents East Boston, Charlestown and the North End, also had praise, saying she is “pleased with a lot of the investment in housing and in ensuring efficient constituent services,” though she added that “I will be sure to review every single line item over the next couple of months.”

Not everyone was as ready to praise the mayor’s budget recommendation.

Pushback from activists

A group called the Better Budget Alliance is calling on Wu and the City Council to approve additional funding for the city’s participatory budget initiative, which kicks off this year.

In a statement, the group said: “This year, for the first time, Bostonians will have the chance to directly propose and vote on how to spend the City’s money in a new ‘participatory budgeting’ process. However, to make this process successful, we’re calling on the City to dedicate at least $40 million (.93% of the budget) to participatory budgeting.”

Meanwhile, advocates focused reallocating city funds away from policing and toward other social services were disappointed to see Wu include a pay raise for the Boston Police Department.

“The new budget doesn’t reflect what residents and youth of Boston want to see,” said Favour Ejims, a youth organizer with the Boston Youth Justice and Power Union, in a statement.

“When she ran for Mayor, Michelle Wu promised to move money from the police to community needs. While the City decreased the police budget last year, the mayor is proposing to increase it by $10 million this year, and this year’s budget includes more officers and continues funding high overtime costs,” said Ejims. “That extra money could be used on other resources that are more beneficial for our community than hiring more police.”

Among the items in Wu’s recommended budget are:

$4 million in new funding for universal pre-kindergarten programs to add 350 new seats over three years.

$43 million for new libraries in Fields Corner, Egleston Square, and Codman Square and $750,000 “to expand weekly and Saturday hours at Boston Public Library branches.”

$18 million toward youth jobs programs, an investment the Wu administration calls “the largest in Boston’s history.”

$500,000 for youth swim lessons, including for the providing swimsuits and swimming equipment to city youth.

$178 million in new capital funding for construction and renovation of Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) facilities in Grove Hall, the North End, Allston, Mission Hill, and Hyde Park.

$50 million for the Boston Housing Authority for modernization and renovations, working toward a goal of ending the use of fossil fuels in Boston public housing.

$1.4 million to expand access to Bluebikes across Boston.