State Budget Update: Now in the Governor’s Hands

The Legislature completed its work on a new state budget this week, sending a plan for the already-underway Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) to the Governor.  To catch up, here’s our previous post, on the conference committee that worked out the final legislative budget from the original House and Senate plans.

We have been following four priority areas in particular, advocating for them throughout the process, and the news, as spelled out below, is positive on all fronts!  We’ll take some credit for that, of course, but the truth is, it’s always easier to make the case for funding in a year, like this one, when state revenues are outpacing expectations—in this instance, by nearly $600 million.

With the budget now in the hands of Governor Charlie Baker—who can sign off on the budget but also has the power to reduce or even strike individual line-items and other provisions—we sent him a letter this week, asking him to approve the following BBA priorities:

  • We will always support funding for civil legal aid, as a critical access-to-justice issue—especially since our 2014 report, Investing in Justice.  This year, the Legislature provided a significant jump of $3 million to the line-item of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the state’s leading funder of legal-services providers, bringing their FY20 total to $24 million.
  • The organized bar is the only natural constituency for the judiciary, which must rely on the other two branches of government for its funding, so we take seriously our responsibility to advocate for their budget.  The judiciary is funded through a web of related line-items, but the bottom line (so to speak) is that this year, they are very satisfied with the appropriation they received from the Legislature, including funding for continued implementation of the Housing Court’s statewide expansion, which was first authorized two years ago.
  • We also advocate for the Committee on Public Counsel Services (CPCS), which provides representation to indigent persons in criminal and civil cases, and administrative proceedings, in keeping with the right to counsel under our laws and the Constitutions of Massachusetts and the United States.  This year saw robust funding for CPCS operations, including both staff and private counsel who take their cases, but the Legislature’s budget crucially also includes a so-called outside section, supported by the BBA, that would allow for a temporary expansion of CPCS’s emergency authority to waive statutory billable-hours limitations under certain limited circumstances, in order to address emergency shortages of attorneys willing to take cases in some regions.
  • A recent addition to our budget priorities is funding for post-incarceration residential re-entry services.  As indicated in our 2017 report on criminal-justice reform, No Time to Wait, such services can be a critical link in supporting successful re-integration, and thus a reduction in recidivism rates.  We were therefore pleased that the Legislature authorized $4.5 million in funding for such programs this year.

To reiterate, all of these measures are tentative, pending the decision of the Governor, who has until next week to decide.  In case of any reductions or outright vetoes, the Legislature would still have the opportunity to pursue overrides.

—Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association