California Governor Proposes Linking College And Prison Spending

Compiled By Staff
January 8, 2010

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week proposed a constitutional amendment that would shift state money from prisons to universities.

In his final State of the State address on Wednesday, the governor pointed out that currently, about 7.5 percent of the state general fund is allotted to the universities, while close to 11 percent is dedicated to prisons. His plan calls for a constitutional amendment that would guarantee at least 10 percent of the state budget for the University of California and California State University systems while gradually cutting back prison funding to 7 percent of California's budget.

"What does it say about a state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns?" Schwarzenegger said in his speech, which was reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education. "It simply is not healthy."

The proposal faces a tough road ahead: It would need the approval of lawmakers and voters, and it would result in privatizing the state's prison system--which many will undoubtedly oppose. In particular, the influential union that represents prison guards would most certainly fight privatization.

"In concept, it absolutely makes sense to everyone," said Thad Kousser, visiting professor of political science at Stanford University, who was quoted by The Los Angeles Times. He noted, however, that "when you look at the trade-offs that the state might face to get there, it gets a lot harder."

The LA Times notes that prison populations have increased because voters and politicians have approved stiffer sentences and stricter rules for parolees. As a result, the corrections budget has gone up, and lawmakers have been unable or unwilling to cut it back.

"The most essential of government functions is public safety," said state Sen. Tony Strickland, who was quoted in the LA Times, "and we have to make sure that's our top priority."

Nevertheless, university leaders were quick to applaud Schwarzenegger's proposal. "The administration deserves credit for proposing this idea," said Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed in a statement, "and we look forward to working closely with them on the details as it progresses to help ensure a more stable and predictable level of funding for our public universities."

UC President Mark G. Yudof commended the proposal in a statement as well. "This is a bold and visionary plan that represents a fundamental restoration of the values and priorities that have made California great," he said. "I am extremely pleased that the governor understands how vital it is to return the University of California and the California State University system to solid financial footing."

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