From Issue Spot: The 9C Process Has Begun

Monday, December 10, 2012

This week, the administration began the dreaded 9C process. Governor Patrick announced that Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez has informed him – pursuant to Section 9C of Chapter 29 of the Massachusetts General Laws – of a budget shortfall of $540 million for Fiscal Year 2013. If projected revenues are insufficient to meet authorized spending, Section 9C states that the Secretary must notify the Governor within 5 days. The Governor must then propose a revised spending plan, increase revenues or both.

Technically 9C cuts – reductions made by the Governor under Section 9C – can be announced at any time it is determined that actual revenue will fall short of revenue estimates. But there are also specific times – October 15, January 15 and April 15 of each year – when the Secretary is required to provide updates on revenue estimates to the Governor and Legislature.

By statute, 9C cuts are limited to accounts that fall under the control of the Governor, and which do not provide direct local aid. In a good illustration of the importance of separation of powers, the Governor’s 9C power cannot be used to cut the Judiciary, the Legislature, or other constitutional offices. If he wants to expand his 9C powers into other areas of government, the Governor needs to file legislation – which he filed along with his budget reduction recommendations this week.

The administration’s plan proposes 1% reductions across the board – except for education funding – and would withdraw $200 million from the state’s rainy day fund. The Governor called the cuts relatively modest and said he filed for expanded 9C powers because he wants to spread the pain.

Governor Patrick made a point of saying that it will be hard for the Judiciary to find areas from which to cut 1% of their budget since they are already underfunded. Hard is an understatement. The Judiciary is the branch of government left to make desperately necessary and often unpopular decisions when no other has the political appetite to act. The Judiciary provides essential protections against abuse of government power. Despite the importance of the judiciary as a branch of government that should be free from interference by the executive or legislative branches, the judiciary has already shouldered a dramatically disproportionate share of crippling cuts over the last few budget cycles.

As part of court reform legislation passed in 2011, several months ago the Judiciary named Harry Spence as their first ever civilian court administrator. The administration should let him take the lead in helping the Trial Court get back on sound economic footing.

The 2011 court reform legislation was intended to ensure that the Trial Court, under the management of the Court Administrator, would be able to manage its own budget more effectively. In making a grab for 9c powers over the judiciary, it seems like the administration is trying to take the very tools – the money and resources – away from the Judiciary when it desperately needs every single dollar. Doesn’t the administration realize the judiciary has been operating under the pressures of hiring freezes and job furloughs for far too long? Enough is enough. Further cuts are simply not sustainable.

In the end we’re not at all convinced that cutting 1% of the Judiciary’s budget is going to have a real effect on a $540 million shortfall. The proposed 1% cut will, however, have a real and resounding effect on the people that are working hard in our courts every day and on the people of Massachusetts – both private citizens and corporate citizens – that need access to our courts every single day.

-Kathleen Joyce
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association

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