Status quo on probation

Rep. Murphy keeps probation within judiciary but under control of Legislature

Rep. Charles Murphy’s House budget proposal sticks with the status quo on the state’s probation service, keeping the department within the judiciary but under the tight control of the Legislature.

“We’re not going to cede our authority,” said the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee when asked why he chose not to adopt Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to move probation into the executive branch or the judiciary’s request for tighter control over probation spending and hiring.

Widely regarded as a patronage haven for the Legislature, probation is located within the judicial branch of government but operates with an unusual degree of autonomy. The commissioner of probation operates with no term limit, he controls all hiring and firing within his agency, and court officials are barred from moving funds out of probation to deal with budget shortfalls in other areas of the judiciary.

Murphy said probation has worked “pretty well” in the judiciary and he saw no need to change anything, although he said he proposed a 4.2 percent cut in the agency’s budget this year.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Murphy made his comments at the State House as he unveiled his $27.8 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2011. Overall, the budget increases state spending by 3.2 percent, but includes roughly $1.4 billion in cuts and savings initiatives, including a reduction of roughly 4 percent in state aid for municipal education and the layoff of as many as 1,500 state workers.

Here are some provisions in the budget:

  • Although Murphy said he had to make steep cuts in state spending, he did not reduce or eliminate the state’s film tax credit, which is expected to cost the state at least $125 million in the coming fiscal year. Currently, the state pays a quarter of whatever a film or television producer spends shooting a movie, TV show, or commercial here. Patrick had recommended capping the film tax credit at $50 million for the year, but Murphy declined to go along. “We have an industry in its infancy and it’s a legitimate industry,” Murphy said. “Capping it would cut the industry off at its knees.”
  • Murphy dropped a provision he included in last year’s budget that would have required greater disclosure of who is receiving film and other state tax credits and what kind of jobs those credits are producing. Murphy said he was continuing to talk with some House members about an amendment to his proposal that would provide greater budgeting transparency. He said it might be linked to a separate proposal requiring the establishment of a website detailing how state funds are being spent.
  • Murphy is again supporting an initiative that would funnel any capital gains tax revenue above $1 billion into the state’s rainy day fund so the funds could be used to offset downward swings in tax receipts during recessionary periods.