Wu signs pandemic package, vetoes Baker’s Dorchester Fieldhouse amendment

Mayor Michelle Wu last week signed a pandemic aid package, funded through money from the federal government, while vetoing the portion that would have sent $5 million to a planned youth facility on Columbia Point.

“Our federal recovery funds are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to move urgently on community needs and invest in making Boston a Green New Deal city,” Wu said in a statement.

“From funding for mental health to small businesses, early education to climate resiliency, we will deliver on the possibilities for our families today and for generations to come,” she added.

The pandemic aid package arrived through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021. The package includes money for affordable housing, mental health initiatives and tuition-free community college.

The $5 million for the Dorchester Fieldhouse, a joint project between the nonprofits Martin Richard Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester, was part of a $350 million proposal that councillors unanimously sent to Wu’s desk on July 13.

In a July 21 letter to the city clerk, Wu said she vetoed the Fieldhouse funds because the “allocation of these one-time ARPA funds to be spent on capital projects will be used for public infrastructure with lasting impact rather than to supplement nonprofit capital projects that can access private fundraising.”

Wu had met with the Richard family in June and said she’s supportive of the project, which has an overall price tag of $55 million. But she explained that she could not support the use of ARPA funds for it as other nonprofits jockey for federal cash.

That led to a clash with Councillor Frank Baker, who represents Dorchester. Upset about Wu’s position, Baker said during a debate over the money, “What are you waiting for, Mayor Wu? What are you waiting for? Veto it.”

Baker succeeded in pushing through an amendment to the package that set aside the $5 million for the Fieldhouse in a 8-5 vote of the City Council.

On Monday, Baker called Wu’s veto “disappointing.” He said he learned of the veto from the Reporter.

Baker said he did not anticipate the veto getting overturned by the 13-member council, since nine votes are needed. The City Council can override mayoral vetoes for the annual budget, but does not have that power for other appropriations, such as the federal aid package.

At the Massachusetts State House, lawmakers have set aside a separate $5 million for the Fieldhouse, according to Baker. “The state has it right on this one,” he said. “She has it wrong.”

This post was updated with additional information about City Council powers.

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