Hopefully, when the Colorado Commission comes forth with recommendations to help curb spending here, our lawmakers will understand the need for changes in a system that is wrought with inefficiencies.
One sad example of the way partisan polarization has helped produce the state's perpetual deficits is the ever-growing budget of the state prison system.
Despite a $15 billion shortfall and a public that repeatedly says the prisons should be the lowest spending priority in government, lawmakers couldn't make a significant dent in prison spending in the budget they approved Friday.
The blame for this failure lies squarely on the shoulders of Republicans in the Legislature.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers agreed earlier this year on a set of carefully written reforms that would have made the prisons more effective, and cheaper. Democrats estimated the savings at $445 million.
The elements were:
• Parole reforms. Instead of the standard three-year parole after serving a prison sentence, nonserious, nonviolent offenders would be discharged from parole after five months of clean time.
• Early release of dying or paraplegic offenders who pose no risk.
• Good-time credits for inmates who complete training programs, providing incentives to prepare for life after prison.
• Updated sentencing thresholds for property crimes (such as grand theft and forgery). For example, the grand theft threshold is $400, unchanged from 1982. That's $925 in today's dollars.
This $445 million package was whittled to $175 million in August. But even that minimal package was unacceptable to Republicans, who tried to paint the Democrats as soft on crime, when in fact the proposals arguably would have made Californians safer. In the end, the package dwindled to just $14 million in savings.
Republicans say they are for fiscal responsibility and efficiency. But when it comes to the prisons, they are big spenders, unable or unwilling to cast a critical eye on the fastest-growing major agency in state government.
The Sacramento Bee