House Ways and Means unveils FY2015 budget

Thursday, Apr. 10, 2014
Article Picture

The fiscal year 2015 budget proposal released this week by the House Committee on Ways and Means contains less funding than what the Trial Court and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) had requested. However, funding amounts can still change, as this is just the first step in the Legislature's budget process.

As the Massachusetts Bar Association noted in its "12 for 12" initiative, the Trial Court has been seeking maintenance funding of $615 million in the FY2015 budget. Under the House Ways and Means proposal, the Trial Court would only receive $609.4 million.

Similarly, the $13 million budget for civil legal aid funding recommended by the House Ways and Means proposal is $4 million less than the $17 million requested by MLAC, which is responsible for receiving the appropriated funds and making grants to civil legal aid organizations. After the House Ways and Means proposal was released, MLAC issued a statement, which noted that Rep. Ruth Balser (D-Newton) will file an amendment to increase legal aid funding to $17 million in the final House budget.

"Civil legal aid assures fairness for all in the justice system," said Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of MLAC. "We look forward to working with members of the House of Representatives to ensure that their final budget includes adequate funding for the critical legal help that allows people to protect their livelihoods, their health, and their families."

The House Ways and Means budgetary proposal for the judiciary includes $2.7 million to expand specialty courts that address substance abuse and mental health issues. Other notable budget items include $167.8 million for the Committee for Public Counsel Services (far less than their $206.6 million mainenance request), $12.6 million for the Appeals Court and $8.4 million for the Supreme Judicial Court.

The House is scheduled to debate the budget later this month. The Senate Committee on Ways and Means will propose its budget in May, which will then be debated. Once each branch passes their budgets a conference committee will be appointed to hash out a compromise budget, which will be sent to Governor Deval L. Patrick for approval. Fiscal year 2015 begins on July 1, 2014.