Democrats kill bill to boost rural realignment dollars

12:53 PM, Apr 29, 2013   |    comments
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A Republican led effort to boost state subsidies for Central Valley public safety needs was rejected Monday, after a testy hearing about whether the state does -- or doesn't -- have enough money to add to the dollars earmarked under the 2011 law that handed over control of more criminals to local officials.

The hearing of the state Senate's budget committee seemed to be a blend of two very big policy and political fights under the Capitol dome: whether the 2011 realignment of public safety programs was the right call, and whether the state's finances are as lean as Democrats suggest.

We first reported on the effort by Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, to rework the realignment public safety formulas back in January.  His proposal, Senate Bill 144, sought to add dollars to the allotment given to rural Central Valley counties that are getting less help per offender than other parts of the state.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the cost of SB 144, as currently written, would be about $820 million.

Cannella and his co-authors, at lease one of whom is a Democrat from the Valley, argue that this amount reflects the savings to the state from the 2011 law that diverted many new offenders from state prisons and supervision to the responsibility of local law enforcement.

"Realignment was not supposed to be about [the state] saving money," said Cannella during Monday morning's hearing.

But there were multiple goals of Gov. Jerry Brown's push in getting the Legislature to enact the much debated effort, from a federal court mandate to reduce the state's prison population to contain and offload the state's costs for public safety. The latter led to the language in November's Proposition 30 that permanently shifted tax dollars to local governments to oversee public safety and mental health programs.

Democrats rejected the bill on a party-line vote, but not before taking jabs at a Republican effort to ask for more money even while opposing additional taxes last year to balance the budget.

"In our community, we'd call that chutzpah," said budget chairman Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Leno argued that some counties were using the existing dollars better than others, and pointed out that the existing funding levels - which are not permanently fixed in law - are based on how California's 58 counties used prison versus local diversion programs in the years prior to realignment.

Republicans, though, took aim at the assertion that there's no money for the $820 million boost to local realignment.

"I'd say 'chutzpah' is complaining about money going back to counties when the governor's budget increases spending by $6 billion," shot back Sen. Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands.

Emmerson and fellow Republican Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, then began laying out expenses contained in the Brown administration's current budget plan that they argue are a lower priority - including additional money for state worker salaries.

The existing structure of realignment subsidies relies on recommendations made by local officials through the California State Association of Counties; the Cannella bill that was defeated would have shifted more specifics into state law.

And while some GOP lawmakers and activists continue to call for a undoing or reversal of realignment, the Stanislaus County author said his focus is more practical.

"The mission must now be to support the program as it exists," he said.


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