By Jim Miller
Finally, there was a measure of good news for schools in California with Proposition 30 creating a budget surplus that had plugged some of the gaping holes that years of budget cuts had made in our state’s public education system. But it didn’t take long for Governor Brown to betray us. Indeed, the Courage Campaign has done a great job in recent weeks taking the Governor to task for seeking to raid the Proposition 30 surplus to fund prison expansion.
That’s right, you heard it: prison expansion. As the Courage Campaign puts it:
Gov. Brown claims that his hands are tied. He claims a court order mandating him to reduce prison size by 10,000 has forced him to spend billions more in taxpayer dollars over the next 5 years. Don’t believe the spin. The Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee editorial boards don’t; they’ve ripped apart the Governor’s approach. According to the Brown
Administration’s own proposals to the court earlier this summer, California can reduce its prisoner population by 10,000 through smart, proven, and most importantly SAFE strategies. Here’s the truth: Gov. Brown is afraid. He and our Democratic legislators are terrified of being labeled “soft on crime.” We need to convince him there’s another way.
And the pressure worked as the Governor and legislative leaders recently got together to craft a “compromise” that might not make the raid of the surplus necessary. As the Los Angeles Times reports:
Under the compromise, the state would ask a panel of three federal judges for time to expand rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing the number of inmates who, after serving their time, commit new crimes and return to prison.
If the judges reject an extension, the state will implement Brown’s original plan to spend $315 million this year moving inmates to private prisons, county jails and other facilities. The money for the extra housing would come from the state’s $1.1-billion reserve.
The price tag is expected to increase to $415 million for each of the following two years.
But here’s the rub: many legal observers don’t think the judges are likely to grant the extension as the same story notes, “The judges, for their part, have previously expressed little interest in backing down from their latest deadline.” So the bottom line is that even after hearing the cries of outrage from educators, parents, and concerned citizens across the state, the best the Democratic Governor and legislative leaders in Sacramento can come up with is a plan that is still likely to betray the core principle that drove the Proposition 30 campaign, raid the surplus, and push prison spending back ahead of education spending after a very, very brief reversal in the wake of Proposition 30.
And it’s all being done in the name of political ass-covering so the Democrats don’t appear “weak on crime.” Instead they will happily be weak on principle and cowardly in terms of seeking the revenue to adequately fund education and the infrastructure this state will need in order to be competitive the future.
Those of us who were loathe to give up the Millionaires’ Tax campaign and merge with the Governor’s effort were cynical about serving the greater glory of the Democratic leader rather than a populist campaign to force Sacramento to permanently fund education with no wiggle room for exactly this kind of monkey business.
So the next time you hear a Democrat tell you we can’t tax oil or make the taxes on top earners in Proposition 30 permanent without a vote of the people, ask her or him if they think the people who voted for Proposition 30 thought they were going to the polls to expand our prison system at the expense of schools.
The politicians are hoping you won’t notice, but this one stands as one of the biggest profiles in political cowardice and hypocrisy in a long time. Hundreds of millions of dollars from the Proposition 30 created surplus going to prisons? I guess they think they can just blame the judges when it all goes wrong.
With “friends” like these, we don’t need enemies.