House One as filed by Governor Deval Patrick suffers from the same deficit as every other piece of legislation in this State – Legislation without appropriation. Changes are made by the outside sections, but no one knows what they will cost, such as the changes to C.L.c119 embedded in outside Section 41. Unfortunately, this happens all the time in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
For example, in House One, line item 0321-1510 which funds all court-appointed counsel for the indigent, both civil and criminal is reduced by over $20,000.000 from this year’s appropriation. Yet, line item 0321-1510 was just handed an enormous new area of mandated appointments by the passage of Chapter 521 of the Acts of 2008, also known as “The Uniform Probate Code” or “UPC”. The new UPC, in Section 5-106, states:
(a) After filing of a petition for appointment of a guardian, conservator or other protective order, if the ward, incapacitated person or person to be protected or someone on his behalf requests appointment of counsel; or if the court determines at any time in the proceeding that the interests of the ward, incapacitated person or person to be protected are or may be inadequately represented, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent the person, giving consideration to the choice of the person if 14 or more years of age. If the ward, incapacitated person or person to be protected has adequate resources, his counsel shall be compensated from the estate, unless the court shall order that such compensation be paid by the petitioner. Counsel for any indigent ward, incapacitated person or person to be protected shall be compensated by the commonwealth. This section shall not be interpreted to abridge or limit the right of any ward, incapacitated person or person to be protected to retain counsel of his own choice and to prosecute or defend a petition under this article.
The UPC created an entire new category of court appointed cases. No one knows how many wards will need court-appointed attorneys, nor what this will cost. No money at all was allocated and the line item responsible, 0321-1510 was in fact cut.
In Congress, all legislation must be filed with the Congressional Budget Office “CBO” and a cost analysis done. See the CBO homepage: http://www.cbo.gov/
In Massachusetts, our legislature shoots from the hip – which is to say, at best guesses at cost, at worst takes a lobbyist’s word for what legislation will cost.
Rep. Jay Kaufman has filed “An Act Establishing a Legislative Budget Office”.
This Act would create an independent office, funded by the legislature to act as a budget office like the CBO. I think that it is time to do this, and just maybe, budgeting would become less of a shoot from the hip Hollywood drama.
See the CBO analysis of HRI, President Obama’s recovery legislation. Wow!
.pdf of HR.1 – President Obama’s Recovery Bill