Saturday, June 22, 2013

Brown, Budgets, Prisons, and Contempt.

The enduring wild card in California's budget is the situation in California's prisons.  This one came up here in January and back in November. The failure of the Brown administration to regain control of California prison's mental health services (which came up in April twice) led most people to believe that the State's plan to deal with prison overcrowding would similarly fail when reviewed by the courts.

Thursday, the three judge panel supervising the State's reduction of prison overcrowding duly rejected the State's plan to deal with the problem. Jerry Brown narrowly avoided being held in contempt of court, but the panel made clear that, failure of the State to comply with the latest order "shall constitute an act of contempt."

Michael Bien
Image available at http://tinyurl.com/mmegjnc
It's interesting to contrast this case with the decisions that are expected in Perry v. Hollingsworth and Windsor v. United States (prior blog posts on that topic are here and here) on the 24th 26th of June. The consequences of the prison overcrowding litigation will easily be as far reaching as the Prop. 8 cases, and Michael Bien deserves a lot of credit for doggedly pursuing the issues for years.

The result in the prison overcrowding case also provides a nice explanation for an oddity that was in the back of my mind last week, when the Economist noted (with amazement) that Jerry Brown 2.0's conservatism was having unexpected consequences in dealing with California's budget:
"POLITICIANS seldom show the caution required of fiscal analysts. Revenue projections are too rosy, deficit targets are blithely missed and rash promises are lavished on voters. Yet last month California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, an independent fiscal monitor, rebuked the governor, Jerry Brown, for his 'unduly pessimistic' account of the state’s
economy. Mr Brown had predicted a $1.2 billion surplus for the coming fiscal year; the LAO put the figure at over $4.6 billion. This week the state’s leaders found themselves in the unusual position of agreeing a budget that did not include whopping cuts."
However, it makes perfect sense for the Governor to have been pessimistic -- the estimated amount necessary to address overcrowding by housing some prisoners out of state for 2013 is $1.9 billion.  The Governor and his advisors had to have known this kind of a ruling was coming, and that the difference between budgeted and projected revenues would probably need to be spent pursuant to the court order on reducing prison overcrowding ...

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