Lawyers Journal

Senate adopts budget, now rests with conference committee

Last month, the Senate approved a $34 billion budget for fiscal year 2014 after two days of debate on hundreds of amendments. The Senate bottom line mirrors what the House passed in April; however, there are many differences to be worked out by a six-member conference committee to be appointed by both branches.

One line item that does not need to be addressed by the conference committee is funding for legal aid to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. MLAC's funding from both the House and Senate is $13 million, a $1 million increase over fiscal year 2013 funding, but still below what is needed to address the civil legal needs of those who are eligible for services.

Also passed by both branches is a judicial compensation increase which would bump Massachusetts jurists' salaries to $159,694 on July 1, 2015. The increase is incremental and while the House and Senate agree on the amount of the increase, they differ on the schedule in which it would be implemented. The House budget sets the first increase effective Jan. 1, 2014; the second July 1, 2014 and the final increase on July 1, 2015. The Senate budget sets the first increase effective July 1, 2014; the second Jan. 1, 2015, and the final increase on July 1, 2015. This will be among the items decided upon by the conference committee members.

Also to be meted out by the conference committee will be funding for the Trial Court. The Senate budget gives the Trial Court $579 million in funding, while the House funded the Trial Court at $573.8 million. While the Senate funding is preferable, both branches fell far short in providing the $589.5 million requested by the Trial Court for maintenance funding.

The conference committee will be meeting over the coming weeks. Once an agreement is reached, the House and Senate will vote to approve/disapprove the conference committee's report before sending the budget to Gov. Deval L. Patrick for his signature and line item vetoes. The commonwealth's new fiscal year begins on July 1, 2013.

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