When all is said and done, what is the cost of trying to provide access to justice for all?
Next Wednesday, April 13th, the Massachusetts House of Representatives will release its version of the state budget. The budget is much more than a list of dollar figures for particular programs. Rather it’s actually a reflection of decisions that help frame the values and priorities for the state. The decisions reflected in the state budget affect the everyday lives of Massachusetts residents and have a strong bearing on the quality of education in Massachusetts, the level of health care services, safety of communities and so much more.
The budget is the most important bill to move through the Legislature each year. The BBA has been working for months to advocate for level funding for legal services and the state courts while continuing to urge adequate funding for CPCS and the District Attorneys as well. To be an effective advocate, it is important to understand how and when to make an impact on the process, and ultimately the outcome. This means knowing what to look for when the budget is posted online next week and how to respond.
Our 3 step state budget review process is:
1) Check the line items for the specific accounts the BBA has been working on. For example, we are hoping to see that the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item 0321-1600 will be level funded at $9.5 million.
2) Check the language of the line items for any earmarks. Earmarks sometimes appear in a budget item and direct a portion of the money to a particular program.
3) Read the outside sections. These sections often affect appropriations in the budget or contain policy that would make permanent changes in the General Laws.
The BBA has been anticipating the release of the budget. For the past two months, we have been campaigning alongside our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition for adequate funding for legal services. We have been working closely with the Judiciary to determine how best we can help them make their case that adequate funding for the courts is essential to everyone in Massachusetts. BBA sections have reviewed and studied the proposal relative to the Probation Department and CPCS that was included in the Governor’s budget. We know that the Governor’s transfer of CPCS to the Executive Branch means those line items have been stricken from the Judiciary accounts. But public statements from the Speaker indicate the House budget will keep CPCS in the Judiciary.
No, we’re not done. Once the House budget is released, we will analyze the priorities articulated and develop an appropriate response. For the BBA to make an impact on the budget process we have an obligation to speak up in support of our partners and serve as a resource for the growing number of legislators who are not as familiar with some of these issues as they might like.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association