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 January 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 January 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,