California Budget Passes Without Funds to Reduce Prison Population

  on June 16 2011 10:33 AM
california assembly
California Governor Jerry Brown delivers the State of the State in the State Assembly Chambers in Sacramento Reuters

California's Democratically controlled legislature passed a budget yesterday that eschews tax extensions favored by Governor Jerry Brown for funding measures that Republicans dismissed as gimmicks.

The budget, intended to address a $9.6 billion deficit, introduces hikes in local sales taxes and registration fees, slices funding from education and the court system and defers billions in debt the state owes to schools. It does not include tax extensions, opposed by Republicans, that were crucial to paying for Brown's plan to comply with a Supreme Court mandate to reduce the state's prison population by some 33,000 inmates.

It remains unclear whether Brown will sign the budget. Darrel Steinberg, the Senate president pro tem, said that Republican intransigence had forced Democrats to push through a not ideal budget, though he called it a solid and credible Plan B that was worthy of the governor's signature.

Brown's measure to ease the strain on overcrowded prisons would move offenders to county jails, effectively spreading the burden through different levels of California's corrections system. But a renewal of recent increases in vehicle, sales and personal income taxes was an essential part of his calculus, and Democrats were unable to muster the Republican votes for the two-third's majority necessary to extent the taxes. Matthew Cate, secretary of the state's prison system, warned that absent such funding the plan could not proceed on schedule.

We need to start this summer, he said. Or we need to go to the court and ask for more time.

A fight broke out on the Assembly floor when Republican Assemblyman Don Wagner referred to the budget as the insurance policy that Tony Soprano is selling us, a reference to the television show The Sopranos. Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino said the comment was offensive to Italian-Americans and demanded an apology, to which Wagner replied I will apologize to any Italian-Americans that are not in the Mafia and engaged in insurance scams. A scuffle ensued, with lawmakers intervening to separate Wafner and Democratic Assemblyman Warren Furutani.

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