Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Governor Proposes to Slash Civil Legal Services, PULP Funding

Governor Paterson's "Deficit Reduction Plan" for reducing local assistance proposes that the legislature enact revised appropriations for 2009 - 2010 that would slash funding for civil legal services and the Public Utility Law Project ("PULP") by $595,000 and $23,000, respectively.

In every year since 1981, state budgets have provided core funding for PULP. PULP has been has been omitted from Governors' proposed budgets, however, every year since the beginning of the Pataki administration in 1995. This makes legislative additions to the budget essential for PULP's survival. On several occasions in the mid to late 1990's, funding for PULP was cut, vetoed, and delayed. After 9/11, PULP received a 25% funding reduction in 2001, which has since been frozen.

As a result of the current funding constraints, PULP staffing has been reduced to less than 1/3 of its pre-1995 level, making it impossible to participate on behalf of low income consumers in many important utility proceedings. Due to the static funding, rising costs, and cash flow difficulties requiring more borrowing to sustain PULP, earlier this year a decision was taken by the PULP Board of Directors, on my recommendation, to halt all contributions to the PULP employee pension plan.

The state has yet to finalize PULP's contracts and thus has provided no funding reimbursement to implement the April legislative appropriations intended to support for PULP for the state fiscal year from April 1, 2009 to March 31, 2010. Last week PULP was required to re-execute a still unprocessed contract -- because it is being renumbered by the Department of State. At the moment, PULP is surviving only with a bank loan, and must, of course, pay interest on that, and is rapidly reaching the credit limit.

Gerald Norlander

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