State Budget Update

Regular Issue Spot readers know that we closely follow the progress of each fiscal year’s state budget, from before the release of the Governor’s budget (usually in January) until sometime in the summer when the Governor signs the Legislature’s final budget into law (and sometimes beyond, when—unlike this year—there are vetoes that the Legislature seeks to override).  This year the budget for Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) took effect on July 31, and we were very pleased to see that the Governor OK’d the Legislature’s provisions in all of the priority areas we had written to him in support of:

  • This year, the Legislature provided a significant increase of $3 million in the line-item for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), the state’s leading funder of legal-services providers, bringing their FY20 total to $24 million.
  • The judiciary is funded through a web of related line-items, but the bottom line (if you will) 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.
  • The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) saw robust funding for its operations, including both staff and private counsel who take their cases. The 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.

Not only did Governor Charlie Baker sign off on all the above, as we had requested, but in a surprise move, the Governor declared the budget balanced—helped by an influx of revenue totaling hundreds of millions of dollars beyond projections—and chose not to veto any line-items at all.

—Michael Avitzur
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association