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Who is deciding California's budget priorities?

This week, both the Senate and Assembly budget subcommittees on pubic safety held hearings on Governor Brown's revised proposal for the state's youth correctional facilities, Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF).  Under heavy pressure from law enforcement associations, the Governor backed down from his January proposal to close the front door of the DJF and allow the youth offender population to decrease through attrition.  In its place, the Governor has proposed a new annual $24,000 per ward fee structure for all youth offenders sentenced to DJF in juvenile courts.

The backdrop for the Governor's reversal from his January proposal is the $67.7 million mid-year budget "trigger" that was never pulled for DJF.  Extensive mid-year cuts were made to the Cal State system ($100 million), child care services ($17 million), community colleges ($100 million), disability services ($100 million), in home support services ($101 million), K-12 schools ($79.6 million), libraries ($14 million), and to the University of California system ($100 million).   

Despite the devastating budget cuts to these important services, the Governor buckled under law enforcement pressure and gave the state's youth prisons a $67.7 million reprieve.

In its place the Governor's proposed $24,000 new annual fee structure for DJF and small administrative cuts that would create $24.8 million in savings for the state.   Yet even this reasonable fee, approximately 13% of the state cost for one youth ward in DJF, is being opposed by many of the same law enforcement agencies, including the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC).

At Tuesday's Senate Subcommittee 5 hearing, CPOC asked the committee members to hold open the vote on the proposed fee so that discussions could continue between the Legislature and the law enforcement associations.  This request was granted allowing the discussions to continue behind closed doors with no input from the public or policy experts.

It is becoming very clear that neither the Governor's administration nor the Legislature is willing to stand up to the law enforcement associations that wield a disproportionate amount of power in our state's Capitol.   While the Governor calls for shared sacrifice among many service sectors of our state, including an impending $350 million cut to the county courts system, the same sacrifice is not asked of corrections.  The Governor's May Revise also includes $500 million in additional funding for county jail construction, above the bond funding allocated under AB 900.

California continues on a trajectory of disinvestment in education and critical social services, while corrections spending consumes a greater portion of the budget pie.  Where exactly do we want our children to end up? 

Keywords: Brian Heller de Leon, DJF/DJJ, fiscal policy

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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