Budget committee about-face indebts future budgets for jail construction as county jails defy state law
Lizzie Buchen, Californians United for a Responsible Budget
Tonight, elected officials in the Budget Conference Committee overrode the actions of the Budget Subcommittees and intense community opposition by approving $270 million for jail construction in the form of lease revenue bonds.
During Budget Subcommittee hearings over the past few weeks, both the Senate and the Assembly rejected $250 million in general funds for county jail construction, a decision that came after communities impacted by incarceration from across California advocated to reject the funding and re-direct it towards community-based programs and services and alternatives to incarceration.
“This budget once again ignores the demands from constituents, state legislators, and elected officials that have all advocated for no more jails,” says Sammy Nunez, Executive Director of Fathers and Families of San Joaquin. “In San Joaquin and other parts of the state, community members have been demanding resources for on-the-ground support and denounced the need for more jails. And just this year San Francisco and Contra Costa organizers stopped their proposed jail plans from moving forward. By using lease revenue bonds, not only is the Governor ignoring what Californians have clearly said, which is no more jails in our communities, he is putting future budgets in jeopardy.”
Lease revenue bonds (LRBs) come with high interest rates that indebt future budgets. LRBs are loans that are repaid by income (“revenue”) generated by the project; typical examples include toll bridges, hospitals, and colleges. Voters do not approve LRBs because taxes are not supposed to be used to pay for the projects — but in the case of jail and prison construction, the “revenue” is simply a transfer of money between government agencies.
During the Senate subcommittee’s March 3 hearing on prison construction, Conference Committee member Sen. Loni Hancock criticized the state’s reckless use of LRBs: “I always wondered when we funded those [construction] projects where we were gonna get the revenue to pay back the lease revenue bonds, or if that was just a way to get around having to go to the people of California and ask them to approve a bond which, indications are, they would never approve. And so now we’re stuck with the debt payments, and certainly as we look at any proposals for more [construction] I think that this committee is going to have to try and be responsible.”
This action by the Governor and California legislators is occurring while many Sheriff’s departments are under scrutiny and facing lawsuits for abuse and mistreatment of people in their care, as well as violations of state law by counties eligible for the jail construction funds. In fact, eight out of the 21 eligible counties were “non-responsive” with reporting sterilizing procedures under SB 1135, the anti-sterilization bill passed two years ago.
“Counties should not be funding jail expansions if they cannot properly manage their current system in a responsible, compliant, and transparent way,” said Tracy Jones of Justice Now, who was a liaison between incarcerated people and prison staff while she was incarcerated. “I have been privy to first-hand sterilization abuses within the walls of the female prison system. The license to kill a woman’s choice to give life has now been given to counties, particularly impacting women of color.”