SACRAMENTO — With his state strapped and his legacy looming, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed on Wednesday to greatly reduce the amount of money California spends on its prisons and to funnel that sum to the state’s higher education system instead.
The governor said he would also push for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the percentage of the state budget earmarked for prisons from exceeding what is set aside for its public university system.
“Choosing universities over prisons,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said in his final annual address to the Legislature. “This is a historic and transforming realignment of California’s priorities.”
The governor, a Republican, also used the opportunity to take a swipe at the proposed federal health care legislation — for which he has shown support — criticizing it as yet another federal program that requires the state to put out money it no longer has.
While the governor provided few details of his new plan, much of the prison cost savings he envisions would come though privatizing services or prisons themselves, anathema in a state where the union for corrections officers has held political sway for years.
Such sweeping change at a time of great fiscal distress in California will no doubt be an uphill fight for Mr. Schwarzenegger, a lame-duck governor.
The proposal, which would require a constitutional amendment or ballot box action, comes at a time when the state’s vaunted public university system is increasingly perceived as the most visible victim of huge budget cuts. It is a system that for decades has attracted families and businesses to the state with its promise to residents of a low-cost, world-class education.