Public safety realignment dollars lacking, say Valley officials

9:42 PM, Jan 23, 2013   |    comments
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A Central Valley state senator is prepping legislation to shift hundreds of millions of dollars from the state to local governments to pay for public safety realignment -- money he says the state is saving from the transfer of programs and should be given to counties.

"The savings that the state is getting is because they pushed them to the county," says state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres. "All I'm saying is let that money follow those prisoners."

The legislation, which will be introduced in the next few days, comes after Cannella and a bipartisan group of 12 other Valley legislators urged Gov. Jerry Brown to support a new funding formula, one that they say won't shortchange their rural communities. The subsidies in question are part of the money shifted via the 2011 realignment law to divert more offenders away from state prisons and into county public safety programs. In all, some $940 million is being sent to California's 58 counties this year; another $1 billion is slated to be sent to counties in the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

But it's how that pie is being sliced that's also the subject of criticism.

The December 5 letter (PDF) cites at least one rural county with less money and more property crimes since realignment. "If the current allocation formula continues," says the letter, "counties with higher numbers of [realignment] offenders will have great difficulty maintaining public safety."

Budget analysts agree that the governor's realignment effort resulted in a net savings to the state, due to smaller prison populations and more local law enforcement programs funded by the vehicle license fee rather than the state general fund. Exactly how much savings that amounts to is unclear.

In an interview on Wednesday, Sen. Cannella said he believes it could be as much as $800 million that his legislation would require being sent to counties; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office says the true net savings to the state -- and thus, the money in question -- could be closer to about $300 million a year.

How the funding formulas were crafted, and then revised, is a complicated story.

Both state and local officials agreed that in the beginning, dollars should be sent to counties to fund public safety realignment using a temporary formula derived largely by how many inmates counties had been sending to state prisons -- the more inmates from a certain county, the larger a share of realigned dollars that county would receive. But not all counties have the same public safety programs, and some officials complained that they were, in effect, being penalized for having used community based diversion programs to keep low level offenders out of prisons. As a result, the system was revamped to include multiple formulas, thus allowing some counties to increase their share of the realignment dollars.

That hasn't sat well with officials in counties that relied on the original, state prisoner based formula.

"There are other counties, in the Bay Area and southern California, that got much, much more than we did," says Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson. "There are some issues in realignment that need to be adjusted."

Cannella's bill may also remove the power to set future formulas from the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown's administration. County budget observers note that there is already $77 million earmarked to assist counties that have suffered a funding hole under the current system.

Brown says he's happy to examine the issue in detail.

"We'll allocate it in the wisest way we can," said the governor at a Jan. 8 news conference on prisons. "And where we can make improvement in realignment, certainly that will be welcomed."

Even critics of Brown's push for realignment are appreciative of his attention.

"The relationship between sheriffs and Governor Brown right now is excellent," says Stanislaus' Christianson. "I see there's some real potential here."

Even so, the idea of moving more money out of state coffers -- especially hundreds of millions of dollars -- would seem to be a long shot.

"Money is a big deal around here," said the governor. "People always want more, not less."


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