Basic Primer on the Budget Process

It’s budget prep time in Massachusetts, meaning that agencies and groups across the state are crunching numbers.  Any entity that gets state funding is assessing its current and future needs — with the goal of determining what its annual request to the Legislature will be for fiscal year 2013.  Earlier this week, the annual consensus revenue hearing was held before the House and Senate Ways & Means Committees.  This hearing marked the beginning of the process by which the Governor’s administration, the House and the Senate will ultimately settle on a final revenue estimate.  That agreed upon revenue estimate will lay the groundwork for building the 2013 budgets submitted by the Governor, the House and the Senate.

There’s a lot of forecasting that goes into determining what this consensus revenue number will be, including projected tax collection figures.  These are primarily drawn from the sales tax, the income tax and the capital gains tax.  Things like national trends and even what is going on globally will ultimately affect the economy here in Massachusetts.

Governor Patrick’s budget will come out in mid-January, followed by the House’s budget in April and the Senate’s budget in May.  The differences in the various budgets must be reconciled by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, 2012.

So how does the BBA fit into the state budget process?  Annually, the BBA advocates for adequate funding on behalf of civil legal services, our state courts, district attorneys and CPCS.  Recently, because of the economic pressures on the state budget, the budget campaign has become a year-round effort. Our advocacy has already begun.  We’ve joined forces with Greater Boston Legal Services and visited legislators to discuss funding for legal aid.  We’ll continue to push these and other issues later when we meet this week with the Governor’s legal counsel and next week with Speaker DeLeo.

But we don’t just sit around, waiting to see what the state budget allocates for legal services.  We do much more.  Through our charitable affiliate, the Boston Bar Foundation (BBF), we raise money to support legal aid.  Last year, the BBF made grants totaling $1.1 million to 25 Massachusetts community organizations providing a wide variety of core legal services – from domestic violence and immigration to housing and homelessness.  Remarkably, in spite of the economy, this $1.1 million was almost a $50,000 increase in core legal services grants, compared with FY10.

The BBA is also a major recruiter for the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP), a pro bono initiative with an outstanding reputation.  In just the last few months the BBA held two trainings for VLP.  One was a Chapter 7 bankruptcy pro bono training, which drew over 100 lawyers.  The other training prepared lawyers to volunteer for one of our most successful pro bono programs, Housing Court Lawyer for the Day Program, which has flourished over the past twelve years.  The BBA has recruited scores of volunteers from law firms, solo practices and in-house corporate legal departments to provide assistance to unrepresented tenants and landlords on summary process day at the Housing Court.

But that’s not all we do to bridge the supply and demand gap for legal aid to the poor.  We co-sponsor and help recruit attendees for an important advocacy event, the annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.  Walk to the Hill, now in its 13th year, will take place on January 26th at 11 am at the State House.  It’s particularly timely, since it occurs the day after the Governor’s budget is expected to be released.

We do what we can to help in a variety of ways and we do it all year long.  But none of the things we do in this area can substitute for the work that veteran legal services lawyers provide.  We recognize that our role is to help secure the funding necessary to allow those attorneys to focus on the immediate needs of their clients.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association
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