We’ve done our best to keep you up to date on the budget process this year, and it’s almost done. To recap, way back in January, the Governor filed his budget recommendations bill. In early April, the House Committee on Ways & Means made its budget recommendations. The House completed its budget in early May, the Senate Ways &Means Committee finalized its budget a couple of weeks later, and the Senate completed its budget at the end of May. Since then, the budget has been before a six member Conference Committee consisting of Representatives Dempsey, Kulik and deMacedo and Senators Brewer, Flanagan, and Ross. On Sunday, June 29th, the Conference Committee finalized its budget recommendation, and on Monday, the House and Senate approved this joint budget. At this point, the budget is under review by the Governor, who has ten days to approve or veto the entire budget, veto or reduce specific line items, veto outside sections, and/or submit changes as an amendment to the budget for further consideration by the legislature.
Our chief areas of interest in the justice system – judiciary funding in the form of: the Trial Court, legal services, and state attorneys – fared well, but still face a number of challenges.
Trial Court Funding
The Trial Court requested maintenance funding of $615 million for FY15. This is the amount of money it would take for the court to continue running at current capacity. In addition, it proposed 10 “modules,” essentially packages of ideas and their costs that it could implement if funded, to update and innovate the courts. These included plans for court service centers, specialty courts, electronic signage and information kiosks, and telecommunication enhancements. The price for each module ranged from around $400,000 to $6.5 million.
- Conference Committee – $612 million – this amount is in between the House and Senate appropriations, but is $3 million below the Court’s maintenance request. It includes $3 million for the specialty court module.
- Senate Budget – $617 million
- Senate Ways & Means – $617 million
- House Budget – $609 million
- House Ways & Means Budget – $609 million
- Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) Funding
MLAC requested $17 million for FY15. This amount would cover current costs and allow for the hiring of 40 more attorneys in addition to offering some future stability. This funding level would expand the amount of services its programs could provide to vulnerable residents across the state and also help boost the state economy. As funding for civil legal aid has declined, mostly through a large drop in IOLTA revenue, the economic benefits resulting from civil legal aid have also dropped. At the same time, the need for civil legal aid has grown — close to 1 million people in Massachusetts qualify for this aid, and programs currently turn away 50 to 70 percent of eligible residents. Last year, MLAC received $13 million in funding.
- Conference Committee – $15 million – Representative Ruth Balser and Senator William Brownsberger sent a letter co-signed by 50 other legislators to conference committee members voicing their support for $15 million in MLAC funding.
We reached out to our members along the way, asking you to contact your legislators to voice your support for civil legal aid funding. Thank you for all of your help – we are confident this level of appropriation wouldn’t have happened without you. At this point we encourage you to continue building your relationships at the Statehouse by personally thanking your legislators for their work and reach out to the Governor for the final budget step, urging him to sign on to the $15 million MLAC appropriation.
- Senate Budget – $14 million
- Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Cynthia Creem filed an amendment requesting increasing this line item to $17 million. It was amended to a $1 million increase and adopted.
- House Budget – $15 million
- House Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser filed an amendment (#157), co-signed by 71 Representatives, proposing to increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million. It was included in a consolidated amendment as a $2 million increase for the final House budget.
- Governor’s Budget – $14 million
Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) Funding
CPCS requested a total budget of $219,399,885 for FY15. Its maintenance request was $206,629,539. The $12.7 million difference was to increase staff compensation and private bar hourly rates. It is important to note when understanding CPCS’s line item that while the Governor’s budget attempts to account for the entire budget, the House Ways and Means recommendation underfunds the private counsel account because CPCS is considered a case-driven account for budgeting purposes. This means that since CPCS cannot predict with exact certainty how many cases it will have to serve, it is provided with an initial appropriation with the understanding that, similar to other case-driven accounts, CPCS will submit supplemental increase requests as the fiscal year progresses. The Legislature and Governor have consistently honored and funded these requests. Neither the Governor nor the House Ways and Means budget propose any changes to the current CPCS service delivery system.
- Conference Committee – $168 million
- Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
- House Budget – $168 million
- House Ways & Means Budget – $168 million
- Governor’s Budget – $191 million
The budget is a long and complicated process, but it is almost finished and we hope that regular updates like this have helped you stay engaged with some key judiciary appropriations. Thank you to everyone for your involvement, especially with legal services funding. Stay tuned for a final update likely only a few days away.
- Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association
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