California Report: Changes Afoot in Sacramento
By Nick Warner (12/03/2010)

The results of the statewide elections in November, coupled with the upcoming 2011 legislative session and a projected $25 billion budget deficit, creates a political backdrop that is expected to produce policy and fiscal challenges over the next year.

A number of statewide initiatives were passed by voters in November that stand to have a significant impact on not only the budget deficit, but also the negotiations among parties and houses of the legislature. For example, Proposition 25 changes the required number of votes to pass a budget from two-thirds of the Legislature to a simple majority. While many view this as a positive step towards achieving an on-time budget, voters also passed Proposition 26, which requires a two-thirds majority for all fee/tax extensions or increases.

This means that while Democrats may be able to pass a timelier budget with spending reductions on a majority vote, unless the requisite Republican votes can be garnered to reach two-thirds, the Legislature is extremely limited in their ability to develop revenue streams and this may actually make budget negotiations harder and more unstable. These additional layers to an already initiative-driven budgeting process will certainly be an additional challenge in the upcoming year.

Additionally, with a new lineup of constitutional officers and Governor-Elect Jerry Brown at the helm, we anticipate a number of changes in personnel as a result of the transition in administrations. New agency secretaries and key appointments will certainly be made over the coming months; however, largely absent from the current process is the customary assembling of issue area transition teams and senior staff. As a result, it is not yet clear whether there will be an extensive overhaul of personnel or if many of the current appointees will remain, at least in the short term, in their positions.

Aside from the transitions in personnel that are expected, we anticipate that corrections reform will be a focus of the Governor-Elect’s administration, in part due to his interest and background in this area and also out of necessity from the budget and federal prison overcrowding case that is pending. On December 1, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments regarding a federal circuit court ruling ordering California to reduce the prison population to reduce overcrowding. A final decision is not expected until mid-year 2011, but Governor-Elect Brown and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will continue to have to address population management issues in the meantime over the coming months.

With the aforementioned as the context, the 2011-12 legislative session officially begins on December 6, with new legislators being sworn in that day as well as a budget special session slated to convene to address a $6 billion projected deficit for the current fiscal year. Legislators can begin introducing bills as early as December 6, although the majority of bills will be introduced throughout January and up until the February 18 deadline. The coming weeks will be filled with budget discussions, legislative proposals, and personnel changes among legislative and administration staff.

Collectively, local law enforcement, our state colleagues, and service providers will need to continue to work together to craft practical solutions to address the multitude of challenges we face in corrections and public safety.

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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