Just two months into Fiscal Year 2013 and the BBA is already gathering data, asking questions, developing our message and gearing up for our state budget advocacy for Fiscal Year 2014. As promised last year, advocacy efforts for access to justice issues are now a permanent and year round campaign for the BBA.
State tax collections – not always the most accurate indicators – for these first two months are higher compared to the same period last year but are still below benchmarks. Traditionally the first two months of the fiscal year don’t meet benchmarks because they are typically small tax collection months. This isn’t alarming, but something to keep an eye on. In the event that tax revenue estimates need to be adjusted, line items across the board could be negatively affected.
Here’s what we are hearing…..
In our state courts, things are looking somewhat better than they did one year ago. After four years without a single new hire, the courts have finally filled about 64 assistant court officer positions. This will go a long way towards improving public safety, allowing proceedings to flow more smoothly, and providing some relief for overworked court personnel.
In the area of civil legal aid, despite being severely underfunded, legal services providers continue to do some excellent work – such as helping families facing eviction retain housing, and securing unemployment benefits for low wage earners. Last year’s state appropriation for Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation was $12 million. While a modest increase over the previous year, the $12 million in state funding is not enough to address the growing need for civil legal aid. Traditionally a major source of funding for civil legal aid, Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA), has plummeted in recent years, and continues to plummet. As you may know, reductions in IOLTA revenues are the direct result of falling interest rates. This makes the state appropriation all the more important.
Here’s what’s ahead….
The Judiciary is still working to build their network of support both inside and outside of the state house and with business leaders. This is where the BBA can be of assistance. The BBA’s more than 10,000 members are also committed, interested and informed constituents gravely concerned about the impact that budget constraints have on the justice system. Our members see the effects of an underfunded justice system every day in their professional life and perhaps sometimes in their own personal lives. Our members can raise awareness by talking to their state representatives and state senators and telling them exactly what is going on inside Massachusetts’ courtrooms.
Governor Patrick’s House 1 budget will be released on Wednesday, January 23rd. While that’s four months away, we are already planning to sit down with Secretary of Administration and Finance Jay Gonzalez and with Governor Patrick’s legal staff in the coming months. It’s important that they hear from the BBA because very few groups, aside from bar associations, care enough to advocate for the justice system.
The 14th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid will be on Wednesday, January 30th at the State House. Nearly 700 attorneys came out last year, and we want to see even more lawyers to participate this January. Our partners at the Equal Justice Coalition are organizing letter campaigns to legislative leadership – with signatories to include Massachusetts law school deans, managing partners and general counsel of Massachusetts companies.
Our annual visits with each of the chief justices of the Massachusetts state and federal courts are in full swing and will continue over the next few months. We plan to invite legislators to join us on visits to our local courthouses to see what’s going on at the ground level and in their districts.
BBA members should plan to join us at Walk to the Hill on January 30th and should also be on the lookout for action alerts calling on them to contact key policymakers at crucial times in the budget process.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association