With the clock ticking on both this year's legislative session and a federal court deadline, lawmakers are poised to consider a budget amendment as soon as next week to finance the transfer of thousands of inmates out of state prisons.
"It will cut into our reserve," said Assembly Speaker John Pérez, D-Los Angeles. "It will slow down our economic recovery, because things that we would otherwise be able to fund that would help us expand the economy will have to be set on the back burner."
The exact amount of the special appropriation remains unclear as the bill is still being written, though Gov. Jerry Brown was quoted on Monday as saying it will be "hundreds of millions of dollars."
As a budget-related bill, the special prison funding could be passed by a simple majority vote in each house.
Legislators and the Brown administration are adamant that the state has no intention to release almost 10,000 inmates by the Dec. 31 deadline set by a panel of three federal judges. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block that order on Aug. 2.
"Any solution that would require us to release prisoners is a no-go," said Speaker Pérez in a Thursday interview.
In the short run, that seems to mean moving inmates from state prisons to either private or local lockup options. A total of more than 8,700 state prisoners are now housed in private prisons in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. The Brown administration is also considering using state prison guards at a privately owned in-state prison, and has had conversations with local officials whose jails may have unused beds.
"No one wants inmates released," said Deborah Hoffman, assistant secretary for communications at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
But exactly how to narrow the state's prison population -- even through spending money to ship the inmates elsewhere -- remains to be seen. One major problem, says Hoffman, is the kind of inmates that would need to be housed elsewhere.
"A lot of these facilities only want to take low level inmates," she said. "And most of those low level inmates are gone. They've been re-aligned."
The money to move prisoners out of state facilities will come from the projected $1.1 billion cash reserve in the budget signed by Brown on June 27.
Speaker Pérez says does not expect the Legislature to simply hand the governor and his prison advisers a blank check, but rather will consider a bill laying out some specifics for how the money will be spent.
John Myers | News10 Political Editor