Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tarnish On The Golden State

Much has been written and said lately about the budget crisis in the State of California, and the drastic cuts in government spending needed to address the budget shortfall. Though I am a recent transplant from California, I still have a significant interest in knowing how this story will turn out. A few things come immediately to mind.

First, I'm curious to know how the growth in the prison-industrial complex contributed to this crisis. According to the 2009 Budget Act, the Corrections budget grew by nearly 30 percent from 2005 to 2009. This is even though FBI statistics show that at least in 2008, the number of crimes per capita fell. Now the Governor is proposing drastic cuts to the corrections budget, and the draconian “3 Strikes” laws and other harsh punishments sponsored by right-wing firebrands and approved by California voters are proving to be both impractical and unaffordable. However, the Corrections Corporation of America remains hopeful that business will turn around for them. (See http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-crime2-2009jun02,0,7051335.story and http://seekingalpha.com/article/136300-corrections-corporation-of-america-q1-2009-earnings-call-transcript)

Second, the Governor is saying that because of shortfalls in revenue, all sorts of social services will have to be eliminated, as well as state parks, libraries, school aid, medical care and so forth. If these things must go and yet the State is still receiving money, I wonder then what expenditures they will actually keep. Their revenues may have been less than desired, but they are not zero. What are the citizens of California going to get for their money?

Third, I wonder if the impending loss of services is due to Californians being just as pressed by financial problems as everyone else, and thus being unable to afford the taxes necessary to keep their current social services. Or is it that Californians have gotten used to getting something for nothing? The same right-wing firebrands who have pushed draconian criminal penalties have also successfully thwarted many attempts to increase taxes over the years. (Proposition 13 is an early example.) How will the citizens of the state respond when they can no longer get something for nothing?

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