Last Thursday, I attended a budget hearing in the California State Senate, which took its first look at Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed spending plan. In a preview of upcoming budget debates between the Legislature and the administration, Gov. Brown’s representatives from the Department of Finance faced tough questioning by members of the Senate Budget Committee.
Senators wanted to know how it is possible that California’s prison population could decrease by 40,000 prisoners while the cost of running state prisons increases by a billion dollars.
Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, asked representatives of the Brown administration, “When, if ever, will the State be able to reduce prison spending?”
Vice Chair Jim Nielsen (R-Chico), an ardent opponent of “Realignment” (under which counties have assumed responsibility for managing persons convicted of nonviolent, non-serious and non-sex offenses) pointedly asked the Brown administration, “Where is the Realignment dividend?”
Leno also questioned the Brown administration’s request to double the staff at the California Health Care Facility, a new prison located in Stockton that provides long-term medical care and mental health treatment to prisoners. The Brown administration responded that planning for the new prison did not take into account the physical plant design of such a large concentration of high acuity beds.
Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) questioned the Brown administration’s revenue estimates, which have been notoriously lower than the State’s revenue collections in recent years. Knowing how much money the State will take in is an important element of crafting the State’s budget. “How can I be sure that the administration’s revenue estimates are more accurate this year?” Mitchell asked.
Mitchell, who chairs a Senate Budget Committee that oversees health and human services programs, also chided the Brown administration over its commitment to reducing poverty. The administration has drawn criticism from advocates for failing to significantly restore many of the $15 billion in cuts to safety net programs since the Great Recession. “This is not poverty reduction,” Sen. Mitchell declared. “This is poverty maintenance.” She specifically called attention to the lack of funding for subsidized childcare slots – a program that gives low-income parents crucial help in improving their economic well-being.
For details on how the proposed budget my impact you, I suggest you look at the California Partnership’s Budget Summary.
We expect the issues raised by these questions to be a focus for the Legislature this spring as it crafts California’s 2015-2016 budget. Stay tuned for Action Alerts to communicate with your legislators.