NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 19, 2008

California's budget woes may soon get worse because of a federal judge's ruling regarding the state's prisons.  The decision came while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) and California Democrats were already looking for a fix for the state's deficit, estimated at $11.2 billion and climbing, says the Heartland Institute.

And a lawsuit trying to force the state to spend at least $8 billion on prison inmate health care could make the situation much worse, says Heartland:

  • In September, the governor signed a $103.4 billion budget; his administration declared the budget balanced, but many analysts believed it included a deficit of more than $10 billion.
  • As state revenue streams have slowed, that figure has been climbing, prompting the governor to call lawmakers into special session.
  • The special session came one month after Schwarzenegger asked for a federal bailout to ease California through a short-term cash crunch but instead secured a $7 billion loan in the private market; the state must repay that money with interest.
  • Meanwhile, a federal district judge scolded state officials for not agreeing to spend more than $8 billion to fund construction of seven prison inmate health care centers and has threatened to hold the governor and the state controller in contempt if they do not submit the money to the court.

The federal case began years ago as a class-action suit on behalf of prison inmates alleged to be suffering from lack of adequate health care.  About one inmate a week died from poor health care, says Heartland.

The problem with the federal court ruling is "you can't get blood out of a turnip," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.  While acknowledging there is "no doubt" the California prison system "has been grossly mismanaged" and the Department of Corrections has demonstrated "a lot of incompetence," he pointed out, "we are out of money in California."

Source: Maureen Martin, "Judge's Decision in California Prisons Case Could Increase State's Budget Woes," Heartland Institute, January 2009.


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