Budget season is upon us! The Mayor introduced a proposed budget last week, which the Council will formally consider over the next two months, prior to a vote. This year’s FY21 budget process is coming in the midst of great uncertainty, as our city grapples with the immediate challenges of COVID-19. This public health emergency will have enormous impacts on the budget for next year and the years to come – both in terms of government revenues and in terms of the needs we must meet for the people of Boston. Already the needs for food access, housing support, and business assistance are huge and only growing. So more than ever before, we can expect this year’s budget to be a work in progress, one that may have to change significantly over the next few months.
Nonetheless, the ongoing situation makes a public budgeting process all the more important. To the extent that we need to shift resources to address urgent problems, or make hard decisions because of more limited revenues, or take action on longstanding inequities and gaps exposed by this crisis, we need a diversity of voices involved in those decisions – both on the Council, and from the public.
As the Chair of Ways and Means, I’ve been working to adapt this year’s budget process to accommodate everyone participating from home. We’ll be conducting all working sessions and hearings on the Zoom platform, allowing constituents to submit video recordings of their questions or concerns in advance, and grouping departments together for hearings. You can learn about ways to get involved in the budget hearings here, see the proposed budget here, and view the Council’s budget review schedule here.
This upcoming week the Council will be hosting several introductory hearings, including a budget overview by the Administration and Finance Department, a presentation on the City’s approach to revenue and assessing, and a summary of the proposed budget for the Boston Public Schools. You can watch the first hearing, which begins at 10AM today, here. You can also join us for a dedicated public testimony hearing on Thursday evening at 6pm to contribute your questions for the process ahead.
In other policy news, you can watch my recent interview with Chris Lovett on BNN here. We spoke about my resolution calling on property owners with vacancies to immediately rent to families with Housing Choice Vouchers, and about a number of other issues.
Last Wednesday, both my resolution on renting to homeless families and another in support of the Mashpee Wampanoag were adopted. Along with Councilors Wu and Edwards, I also called for a hearing regarding targeted property tax deferral due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is definitely an opportunity for us to help property-owners struggling in this crisis, and reward landlords who take rent abatement action now or agree to greater rent affordability in the long term. On the other hand, our property tax receipts account for more than 70% of our city budget; they are the main source that funds all the most critical city services that our residents need now more than ever. The majority of Bostonians who don’t own any property are some of those being hardest hit by this crisis. So we must consider any tax abatement through an equity lens.
None of this is quite what I expected to be tackling when I joined the Council back in January — but I’m glad to be serving in the important role of Ways & Means Chair as we confront these challenges together. We will need to exercise strong collective judgment over the coming months about what is the best way to budget for this pivotal year ahead, and I look forward to doing so with all your help.
In the News
- “‘The reality is we have 500 families right now in shelters with housing vouchers who have not found permanent housing, and I think we really need to seize this moment to solve that problem and get those families housed,’ said Councilor Kenzie Bok, a lead sponsor of a resolution calling on property owners to consider helping out.” Read more by Christopher Gavin
- “‘This COVID-19 crisis has really put a spotlight on all the weaknesses and injustices of our society,’ said Bok. ‘I think one thing it has shown us — which we already knew — is everyone needs a home to be safe.’” Read more by Kenneal Patterson
- “‘I’ve seen so many Bostonians reaching out to help one another during this crisis already, and renting vacant apartments to families with vouchers is another crucial step.’” Read more in the Beacon Hill Times
- “I think we all know that this year’s budget is going to be a work in progress,” said Bok on Wednesday. She added, “None of us quite know what the budget might need to look like in a month.” Read more in the Boston Globe.