The amendment he introduced in his State of the State address would limit the state correctional budget to no more than 7 percent of state general fund revenue and guarantee that the University of California and California State University together would receive no less than 10 percent. The funding shift would begin in the 2011-12 fiscal year and be fully realized in 2014-15.There's no question that state spending on prisons has skyrocketed while spending on higher education has plummeted (see chart). As I see it, however, Schwarzenegger's proposal is fraught with problems. First, and foremost, the correctional officers union is one of the most powerful political forces in the state. From Wikipedia:
"Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future," Schwarzenegger said. "What does it say about a state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy. I will submit to you a constitutional amendment so that never again do we spend a greater percentage of our money on prisons than on higher education."
California needs to find ways to run its prisons more cost-effectively, he said, by allowing private prisons to compete with public prisons. California spends about $50,000 a year per inmate while other states spend $32,000, he said. ... His proposal prohibits cost-savings being achieved through early release of prisoners.
The CCPOA is deeply involved in a variety of political activities. Most spending is done through political action committees. Although its membership is relatively small, representing only about one tenth the membership of the California Teachers Association, CCPOA political activity routinely exceeds that of all other labor unions in California. The union spends heavily on influencing political campaigns, and on lobbying legislators and other government officials. CCPOA also hires public relations firms and political polling firms. ...
Lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the CCPOA have helped secure passage of numerous legislative bills favorable to union members, including bills that increase prison terms, member pay, and enforce current drug laws.
Indeed, the disparity in funding of corrections and higher education has resulted in large measure because the UC system is outgunned, outsmarted, and outmaneuvered by the COs. Schwarzenegger's proposal will be characterized by the CCPOA as an anti-law and order measure. They'll probably get the sheriffs and other cop interest groups to back them. They'll throw dollars at the legislative and referendum processes in amounts higher education can't match.
Indeed, the NYT reports that:
... a spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, Lance Corcoran, called the proposed privatization “definitely a threat to public safety in California.” “If this is the direction the administration chooses to go in, there will certainly be consequences,” Mr. Corcoran said. Lawmakers fear the union, which is well known for campaigning heavily against proposals it dislikes and focusing on lawmakers who support them.
Privatization thus is going to be a non-starter. The CO union will blow it out of the water. And, in this case, they'll get help from the left-liberal groups that think privatization of anything--but especially how we treat felons--is awful.
Another problem, is that California's prison system is swollen by a whole set of moronic laws that would need to be repealed in order to get the size of the prison population under control. Three strikes. Mandatory minimum sentences. And so on. But trying to repeal them gets you condemned as soft on crime. And it bumps up against the law and order lobby. The CO union likes big prison populations.
So I'd like to ask Schwarzenegger a few questions: Who's going to be for this except for a bunch of Birkenstock-wearing, ex-hippy academics? (Well, and me.) What interest group can you line up against the CO union? Who is going to finance the referendum fight?
On top of which, what about the multiple federal court consent decrees under which the prison system operates. How are you going to get the judges to sign off on this?
It's typical Schwarzenegger: Big talk, with nothing behind it.
Update: At Prawfsblawg, Jonathan Simon opines:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used his annual state of the state address to call for a constitutional amendment to guarantee that at least 10 percent of the state's general fund revenues go for higher education, while prison expenditures are limited to 7 percent. [read his press release]. The Governor stated that expenditures had traditionally been 10 percent for higher education and 3 percent for corrections (actually it was nearly 20 percent when I was a student here). Noting that this year corrections received more money than higher education, the Governor is calling for an amendment that will fix the ratio beginning in 2014.
The proposal is bold and deserves support (although adding yet more layers to our Rube Goldberg state constitution is a problem in its own right). Unfortunately, the Governor seems to envision that this will be achieved by reducing spending on prisoners, not by reducing prisoners. His proposal would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to contract out to private suppliers for prisons and prison services.