Okay, so California’s action hero governor also called for an overhaul of the tax and pension systems and demanded more privately run prisons in his state of the state address today. These moves toward privatization will surely not be good for communities of color, disproportionate numbers of whom are locked up in said prisons. BUT, he also uttered these words in his speech:
"Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future. What does it say about a state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy.
He later also said:
Choosing universities over prisons is a historic and transforming realignment of California’s priorities. If you have two states and one spends more on educating and the other one spends more on incarcerating, in which state’s economy would you invest?
Woah! Woah! Not exactly revelatory stuff–it took you THIS long to come to these conclusions, Arnie?–but it’s significant! Even though I would like to point out that when I graduated from a California public university a few years ago I had to pay for my own cap and gown, and that flimsy piece of acetate cost $40. Still, I give him points for the nice poetic imagery. I also give him points for then introducing an amendment that would cap prison spending in California at 7%, and mandate that spending for higher education for both the University of California and the California State University systems never dip below 10% of the state budget. The amendment, if agreed upon, would be fully implemented by 2014. Not soon enough to help students who are struggling to even get into disappearing classes, let alone find the money to keep up with the yearly tuition increases. But it’s welcome news for communities of color. Writes Donna Hemmila for the UC Newsroom:
The slice of the state general fund that goes to the two public higher education systems has shrunk dramatically over the last 40 years while the prison budget has mushroomed. In the 1967-68 fiscal year, UC and CSU received 13.4 percent of the state’s general fund. In 2009-10 the proportion had dropped to 5.9 percent. At the same time, the prison’s share of the budget has more than doubled from 3.9 percent to 9.7 percent.
As for how the state is actually going to shift spending priorities, and what the final figure will look like by the time the amendment passes, I remain cautious. But congratulate yourself today, Governor! Congratulate whoever’s advising you. Investing in young people and investing in public education is always sound economic policy, any way you look at it.