California Report: Budget Woes
By Nick Warner (08/30/2010)

California’s budget impasse, and the associated policy and fiscal implications being considered before the state legislature, continue to be at the forefront of concern among local and state corrections representatives.

The proposals being contemplated by the Legislature will have direct, and in many cases significant, impact on the ability of all local criminal justice departments to provide services.

Senate and Assembly legislative democrats have announced an updated “California Jobs Budget” proposal that reflects a compromise among legislative Democrats, but does not include support from Republicans at this time (Note: California’s budget requires a 2/3 supermajority). The crux of the public safety proposal is to realign certain state responsibilities (e.g. management of low-level drug and property offenders and juvenile parole realignment) to counties and providing funding through a .5% increase in the Vehicle License Fee which currently supports 16 local public safety programs. These proposals raise significant concerns regarding bed space capacity and supervision requirements locally. 

Another policy change which would have an impact on corrections and facilities is the creation of a Board of Community Corrections (BCC). Currently, the Corrections Standard Authority (CSA) is responsible for maintaining and developing standards for state and local juvenile and adult correctional facilities. Under the Democrat plan, the CSA would be renamed the Board of Community Corrections and would be removed organizationally from within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The CSA represents a number of public safety interests at both the state and local level, including chief probation officers, county sheriffs, and directors of corrections as well as other state and local officials and community-based service providers.   The operations and management of facilities would be better served by a standalone agency that does not operate within a state organization and can more effectively address the challenges faced by both local and state public safety partners.

The California Jobs Budget proposal also includes $200 million in lease revenue authority for local detention facility construction as well as budget language to amend existing law to allow counties to use design-build project delivery method in the construction of county jails authorized by AB 900.

The budget proposal is politically difficult as it requires new taxes and thus a 2/3 vote of the legislature. It is important to note that all of these proposals are still being considered and have not yet been approved or signed by the Governor. It is expected that negotiations will continue and the budget proposals will take a number of iterations before enough votes are garnered for passage.

While the budget continues to largely be at a stalemate, the legislature is meeting daily to act on hundreds of bills from both houses to send to the Governor. A significant number of bills were held in Appropriations Committee as a result of their identified impact on the state General Fund. We have seen a surge in bills relative to corrections this year, many of which are trending toward the restructuring of services that local governments and the state provide. The Governor has until September 30th to sign or veto all bills on his desk. It is still unclear as to whether the budget impasse, should it continue well into September, will have an impact on whether the Governor acts on legislation or decides to use his authority to veto measures based on the budget deadlock.

All signs point to trends in California having the state shifting responsibilities to local governments. If the state is willing to invest in public safety personnel, bricks and mortar, and evidence-based programs, locals may just agree to cooperate.

Nick Warner is managing partner of California-based advocacy firm Warner & Pank LLC, a firm that represents several justice organizations, including California State Sheriffs’ Association, Chief Probation Officers of California, and the California Probation, Parole and Correctional Association.

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