Last week the House Ways and Means Committee released its FY2015 budget proposal, which made a number of significant investments targeted to support local aid, substance abuse, behavioral and mental health, and higher education, while reducing reliance on one-time resources. For our chief areas of interest in the justice system — judiciary funding in the form of: the trial court, legal services, and state attorneys — a number of challenges remain. Here is the breakdown:
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.
- UPDATE – Senate Ways and Means – $617 million
- House Budget – $609 million
- House Ways and Means Budget – $609 million – this amount is roughly $6 million less than the maintenance request, but still includes $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.
- Governor’s Budget – $617.5 million – this amount represents maintenance funding and an additional $2.7 million to fund the specialty courts module.
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.
- UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means Budget – $13 million – Senator William Brownsberger and Senator Creem will file an amendment which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million.
- House Budget – $15 million
- House Ways and Means Budget – $13 million – Representative Ruth Balser has filed an amendment (#157) which would increase the MLAC budget line item to the requested $17 million. We sent out an action alert to our members last week and received a number of positive responses. Thank you to everyone who reached out to their representatives. Fifty Representatives signed on to the amendment, and they can continue to sign-on in the coming weeks, so if you don’t see your representative’s name (don’t know their name? Look them up here) on the amendment, please reach out.
- Governor’s Budget – $14 million – only $1 million more than last year’s funding level and $3 million below MLAC’s request.
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.
- UPDATE – Senate Ways & Means – $180 million
- House Budget$168 million
- House Ways and Means Budget – $168 million appropriation. This is an increase of approximately $5.6 million over the FY14 appropriation but is not enough to fund CPCS’s requested changes. Representative Angelo M. Scaccia has filed two amendments that would achieve the CPCS salary and hourly rate increases.
- Governor’s Budget – $191 million total appropriation. This is a $29 million increase from the FY14 general appropriation, but is not sufficient to fund the requested increases for staff compensation or increases in hourly rates for assigned private counsel.
The House budget debate will take place during the week of April 28 to May 2. The Senate will release its budget a couple weeks later, around May 14. As always, we will keep you posted on the latest developments.
– Jonathan Schreiber
Legislative and Public Policy Manager
Boston Bar Association