Saturday, January 09, 2010

Prisons vs. Universities, Budgeting Fiascos

Governor Schwarzenegger continues to disappoint. During the State of the State message earlier this week he said the following:

Thirty years ago 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and 3 percent went to prisons.

Today almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7 1/2 percent goes to higher education.

Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future.

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.

Wow. So much idiocy in so few sentences. First, this, from an article in which some actually support this idea:

"The governor, some years ago, railed against autopilot budgeting," said Steve Boilard, director of higher education for the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office. "This is just another set of restrictions that may not make sense in future years."

I heard on a talk radio show I listen to on the way to work that California already has the 3rd longest constitution in the world. It's over 17 times as long as the US Constitution, in part because we have so many requirements to spend such-and-such a percentage of the state budget in a certain area, whether or not we need to--autopilot budgeting. The governor's proposal would add another such requirement.

Additionally, on that same radio show, the hosts brought up an interesting point. Why conflate or compare education and prisons? What do they have to do with each other? Bringing it to a personal example here (and I'm still paraphrasing the host), if I spend more money on golf than I do on shoes, should I require that I spend more on shoes to make for a "better" situation? What do golf and shoes have to do with each other?

And this proposal was from a Republican governor. Had he been a Democrat here in California he'd have proposed the same idiotic amendment, plus
1. he'd lower the threshold for raising taxes from 2/3 to 55% in the legislature (a dream of Democrats here in CA), and
2. he'd raise taxes to pay for higher education.

California doesn't have an income problem, it has a spending problem.

I'm sure many of you non-Californians have heard of Proposition 13 but might not know what it is. In the 1970s, local property taxes in some areas were rising so fast that people, especially the elderly on a fixed income who already owned their homes outright, were being forced out of their homes because they couldn't afford the higher property taxes. In 1978 Californians passed Prop 13, which capped property taxes at 1% of the property's assessed value and capped property tax increases at 2% per year. If property values climb sharply, property taxes still increase at only 2% per year; only if the property is sold will the taxes reset at 1% of the assessed value. The purpose was to halt what in 1978 was described as "obscene" budget surpluses in some locales.

Many people wrongly blame Prop 13 for California's budget problems. While it certainly has limited property tax receipts, California isn't hurting for money: here's a chart of state income tax rates, here's a chart of state sales tax rates (it's out of date, as California's has been raised to 8.25% plus local sales taxes), and here's a chart of state corporate tax rates. As you can see, California is at or near the top in all three categories. California doesn't have an income problem, it has a spending problem.

So, back to the governor's proposal. Are we to spend less on prisons (keeping in mind that the corrections officers' union is one of the most powerful special interests in California), or are we to spend more on higher education, even though we're deep in the budget doo-doo:

One thing is clear in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's final January budget proposal: California's finances are about as desperate as desperate gets.

Facing a $19.9 billion deficit, the Republican governor placed a big bet on a federal infusion of $6.9 billion. Should that fail to materialize, he proposes eliminating welfare-to-work, suspending business tax benefits and cutting state worker pay more deeply than the 10 percent reduction already in play.

California's experiment in socialism is crashing down all around us and some choose to ignore it, claiming that if we just made it easier for the legislature to raise taxes then everything would be OK.

I don't see how anyone can trust this legislature with more money, even if that money were to be spent on the angels who inhabit our higher education system.


Forest said...

Here's my take on the governor comparing what the state spends on prisons vs. higher education.

He acts like the fact that more money goes to prisons is some serious problem, like our priorities are wrong as a state.

I think you are definitely right, why is that we would even compare those things. They aren't related.

And here's what came to my mind: Which of the two are the government's responsibility anyway? Only one entity as the legal authority to deprive someone of their freedom by incarcerating them. It is the main function of our government to protect our freedom by punishing those who break the law.

Is is really an essential government purpose to provide higher education? That higher education is a worthwhile endeavor for the government is at least open for debate. But there are plenty of private sources of higher education.

What a terrible comparison he is making between something that HAS to be the government's responsibility and something that's not.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had a governor who really had some limited government principles at his core.

Darren said...

Yes, it would.

And I *really* like your delineation of what is without doubt a function of government and what is a nice-to-have function of government.

Ellen K said...

Instead of a shift in economics, doesn't this point more to a shift in demographics? I mean, if you allow entry to people who break the law just getting here, then don't enforce the law when they get here, it's not a huge leap of logic to think that criminals will find the area a temptation. Therefore-more crime produces more need for prisons. Allowing more criminals into the country creates the need.