We have our work cut out for us. While casino gambling dominates the headlines and a veto-proof Casino bill moves to the Senate, the House prepares to debate the $27.8 billion budget released by House Ways & Means Chairman Charley Murphy yesterday. That debate is scheduled to begin on Monday April 26th.
Here’s what worries us. As a report released last month by the Boston Bar Association Task Force on the FY2011 Judiciary Budget, our courts are operating on the margins. And as Joan Lukey, the Chair of that Task Force told Neighborhood Network News’ Chris Lovett a few weeks ago, we hope it doesn’t take a tragedy to demonstrate the need for adequate funding of our state courts. Needless to say, what’s at stake is nothing less than public safety and timely access to justice for everyone – including a lot of people in dire straits.
The budget released yesterday provides cold comfort for our state courts. Alas the Massachusetts Trial Court budget took a hit to the tune of $36.7 million. Given the court’s maintenance request of $565.8 million, the House Ways & Means proposed budget of $529.1 million will undoubtedly curtail access to justice at a time when the Commonwealth can least afford it.
We certainly appreciate the fact that House Ways & Means remains dedicated to the importance of civil legal aid for poor people – allocating $9.5 million (level funding) to the line item for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation – we need to continue to remind the Senate of the importance of level funding for legal aid. Just in case you’ve been out of the loop, the need for legal aid has increased as legal resources have plummeted.
While MLAC and also District Attorneys’ offices were level funded, the Committee for Public Counsel Services was funded at $192 million, or about $18 million less than their request for Fiscal Year 2011.
We will continue to keep a watchful eye on activities in the House while working to press the importance of adequate funding for state courts, civil legal aid, and CPCS in the Senate.
– Kathleen M. Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association