Monthly Archives: July 2013

What Does Civil Legal Aid Actually Cost?

As we wait to learn whether the Massachusetts House of Representatives will take up the governor’s amendments to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget next week, we are grappling with a different set of budget numbers.  In connection with the work of the BBA Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts we are trying to determine exactly how much money is being spent on civil legal aid statewide.

This seems simple and straightforward. But this could not be further from the truth….it’s taking hours of research, compiling lists, and scouring the annual reports of civil legal aid grantees. We now have a list of 137 civil legal aid grantees compiled from the following funding sources: the Massachusetts Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), the Massachusetts Bar Foundation (MBF) and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).  Some grantees receive state funds, others get federal money, and still others receive private money raised at events like the Boston Bar Foundation’s Adams Benefit.

Grantees self-report revenue and expenses on an annual basis.  Their reports vary in format as much as the types of legal work these grantees actually provide.  Because not every civil legal aid organization on our list performs strictly legal services, our task is even more complicated.  Many excellent providers of civil legal aid also provide a variety of other services that are essential to the community. The revenue number that these providers report will therefore reflect a much larger number than just revenue spent on civil legal services. We hope that direct phone calls to these providers and further research will help us to better understand the amount they spend solely on civil legal aid.

As we continue to gather the facts and build a database to help us analyze information, the BBA’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts meets this week for the second time.  Determining what is currently being spent in terms of civil legal aid dollars is just one piece of the puzzle.  In addition to getting a handle on what is being spent currently on civil legal aid in Massachusetts, we need to determine the number of individuals that are being turned away from legal aid organizations. Finally we need to be able to get a firm grasp of what it would cost to meet the current needs of those eligible for civil legal aid.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

Judicial Salary Increase: Let’s Just Do It Already

The issue of judicial compensation still threatens to be a casualty of the transportation financing legislation that is the subject of a recent dispute among Governor Patrick, the House, and Senate.  A compromise on the transportation bill is essential because it is needed to fund major portions of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  Legislative leadership is confident that the transportation financing legislation they’ve put together includes the right blend of taxes and reforms to make a lasting impact on the state’s transportation system.  Governor Patrick disagrees.

Since last week’s Issue Spot post, Governor Patrick signed the Fiscal Year 2014 budget.  At the same time, Governor Patrick returned it to the legislature with vetoes and amendments.  Included in those amendments was a change to the judicial salary increase.  The legislature’s proposal, which was included in the budget sent to Governor Patrick, would phase in the salary increase.  The governor’s amendment would provide the entire salary increase in one lump sum.

We’ve been waiting far too long for a salary increase for our state court judges.  We don’t need to be reminded that the judiciary is not a state agency.  We don’t need to recapitulate the many tough decisions that this branch of government has made over the years that other branches have failed to make.   We don’t need to be reminded that their salary has remained unchanged since 2006.

Here are some facts that cannot be highlighted too often:

  • A state court judge’s salary is simply inadequate
  • It’s time to get the salary increase done

Responding to the recent amendment from the governor, detractors have said that the salary increase will cause an overwhelming number of judges to immediately retire.  This would give the governor power to fill even more judicial vacancies.

Right now the debate isn’t even about our ability to recruit and retain judges.  Those discussions have already happened.  The bottom line is they need a raise.  They deserve a raise.  The Boston Bar Association and its more than 10,000 members support a judicial pay raise.  It’s time to get it done.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association

Still No FY14 State Budget

More than a week into the new fiscal year, Massachusetts is operating without an approved budget for FY 2014.  At the root of this is a leadership disagreement on transportation finances that is directly linked to the revenue needed for the new fiscal year’s budget.  Simply put, Governor Patrick doesn’t think that the calculations included in a transportation finance bill drafted by the House and Senate add up.  A big chunk of the FY14 budget is contingent on revenue generated from new taxes in the transportation finance bill.

The FY14 budget relies on a hefty amount of money from the transportation finance bill.  Our primary concern is that essential funding for the Massachusetts justice system not be negatively impacted.  In addition to funding for the various parts of the justice system, a pay raise for judges has been included in the budget for the first time since 2006.  We would hate to see our hard work on the judicial pay raise fall apart because of unresolved issues related to transportation finance.  The judicial pay raise totals $30,000 for the Massachusetts Judiciary and is supposed to be granted incrementally beginning January 1, 2014.

As last month was winding down, a one-month $4 billion “temporary budget” was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Patrick to keep the state running through the end of July.  This was done to give two different conference committees more time to reach consensus.  One conference committee was working on a transportation tax bill, while the other conference committee was working on a final version of the FY14 budget.

The transportation finance conference committee presented to the Legislature a bill that included $800 million in new transportation revenues for infrastructure improvements and public transit.   The bill had a 3-cent gas tax increase, a $1 per pack increase for cigarettes, and a tax for businesses on software design services.

After being approved by the House and Senate, the transportation finance bill was sent to Governor Patrick for his review and signature.  Governor Patrick strongly disagreed with the Legislature on the amount of revenue the transportation finance bill will generate and almost immediately sent it back with an amendment.  The amendment includes an automatic increase in the gas tax if the Mass Turnpike tolls between Newton and New York are eliminated as scheduled in 2017.

With one day to go until the Governor has to act on the FY14 budget, Legislative leaders are standing by their transportation finance proposal.   Both Senate President Murray and Speaker DeLeo have indicated that the votes on the Governor’s amendment will take place next week.  Governor Patrick can sign the budget, but he can also veto or amend sections.  As it stands, Governor Patrick says he’s never signed a budget that wasn’t balanced, so the next few days should be a cliffhanger.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association