Pubdate: Mon, 29 Apr 2002
Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA)
Copyright: 2002 Los Angeles Newspaper Group


Oops! The prison system has overspent its budget again. But don't worry, 
it's only $277 million. This has happened before, all too often in fact, 
though you'd think this year would have been different. The state already 
is $20-22 billion in the red, and the prison population is declining.

But the prison system always seems to get its way in Sacramento. In 
2000-01, the prison deficit was $52 million, and in 1998-99 it was $106 
million. Both times, the Legislature promptly paid up. As state Sen. 
Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) told the L.A. Times, prison officials know 
they can come to the trough and get automatic approval for whatever they want.

What's going on here? Well, the prison bureaucracy has a secret weapon for 
the budget battles: payoffs. The legal kind.

The union for prison guards, the California Correctional Peace Officers 
Association, is financing its own rapid expansion by spreading political 
contributions all over Sacramento, starting at the top. The union gave $2 
million to Gray Davis in his first campaign for governor, and contributes 
generously to legislators of all stripes.

In return (not directly in return, of course, because that would be 
illegal), legislators are generous with the prison establishment. The union 
gives state legislators millions, and the legislators give state prison 
employees billions.

The current prison budget is $4.8 billion and rising. Operating costs 
aren't just rising, they are soaring. Our generous governor, despite the 
staggering budget shortfalls, plans to give prison guards a pay raise that 
will cost $500 million a year now, and more like $1 billion by 2006. That's 
quite a return on the original investment.

Fortunately, there are signs that legislators are beginning to resist 
opening the cash drawer for the prison bureaucracy. A state Senate 
subcommittee Wednesday rejected the governor's proposal for a $500 million 
prison that would cost $100 million a year to operate. Sen. Polanco is 
chairman of the subcommittee.

State Sen. Joe Dunn (D-Santa Ana) describes the $277 million deficit as 
shocking. He and Polanco also oppose Gov. Davis' plan to shut down five 
privately operated state prisons, which would please the prison-guard union 
but would add millions more to the cost of the prison system.

Polanco and Dunn are raising the right questions about the prison system. 
Other legislators must look beyond the campaign contributions and make 
decisions based on what is right, not just for prison guards but for the 
penal system, and for the taxpayers who support it.

Critical Resistance
1212 Broadway, Suite 1400
Oakland, CA  94612
Phone:  (510)444-0484
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