UCOP: Prison Funding Swap Not Likely

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In the week following Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Jan. 6 speech — which advocated a mandatory increase in funding for higher education — prison guards and legislators have been pointing out flaws in the governor’s midnight proposal.

If passed, the amendment would begin slowly decreasing funding for prisons by outsourcing aspects of jail maintenance to private companies. Instead, that money would be funneled into higher education, and public universities like the UC system would receive a minimum of 10 percent of the General Fund by 2014.

Schwarzenegger’s plan is a departure from the current budget, under which higher education receives 7.5 percent of total state funds and prisons receive 11 percent. Ten years ago, universities received closer to 10 percent, compared to the penitentiary system’s 3 percent.

“[Back then,] the state’s investment in a UC student was twice as much as it is today,” UC Vice President for Budget Patrick Lenz said. “In 1990, the state provided around $15,000 per student. And today, it’s about $7,500 per student.”

According to Lance Corocan, chief communications officer for the California Correctional Police Officers Association, the governor’s plan is not without flaws.

For one thing, he said, it introduces market forces and profit as motivational factors in running a prison. He added that privatization would probably increase spending in the long run.

“It’s been proven throughout the experiment of privatization that cost savings are illusory,” Corocan said. “[The Governor] is trying to present a very simple solution to a very complex problem — one that people have been trying to figure out for the last 300 to 400 years.”

According to UC Berkeley professor of public policy John Ellwood, privatizing prisons would mean contracting out to cheaper, non-unionized prison guards, in order to circumvent the pricier CCPOA guards. In addition, the policy might force the state to grant parolees more leeway in meeting with officers — reducing the number of individuals put back in jail after being released.

“In California, if you miss one appointment with your parole officer, you’re automatically sent back to prison,” Ellwood said. “In other states, you have two or three chances if you miss something. So, another way to cut costs is to take people [who have committed] less violent crimes and essentially get them on the street, assuming they won’t hurt people … If you have fewer prisoners, you’ll spend less money.”

By reducing prison costs, Schwarzenegger said he hopes to free up money for the UC and CSU systems without creating any additional taxes.

As it stands, the UC system received only 13 percent — or $2.6 billion — of its funding from the state in the 2009-10 academic year. The rest came from sources like federal research grants, private donations and student fees.

The governor’s proposed 2010-2011 budget, released on Jan. 8, would increase the amount the state gives to university by $370 million, to about $3 billion.

According to Lenz, the amendment would provide an additional $1.6 billion in annual state funding, to be shared between the UC and CSU systems.

“It depends on the growth in the General Fund budget, so it’s hard to estimate,” Lenz said. “The point that we want to hold onto is at least the recognition that more money needs to be provided for higher education.”

According to UC spokesperson Leslie Sepuka, it is too early to say whether this additional state funding would allow for a decrease in student fees.

Schwarzenegger’s amendment, while at the forefront of budgetary discussion at the moment, is not the only recent government action aimed at increasing funding for higher education. Assembly Leader Alberto Torrico (D–Freemont) recently drafted a bill that would create an excise tax on gas produced in California, then give the revenue exclusively to universities.

“If you think that higher education needs more money, there’s one of two ways to do it,” Ellwood said. “One way is to increase taxation, and the other way is to essentially get money from other parts of the budget.”

Such systems already exist in states like Texas, which uses 25 percent of the revenue accumulated by a similar excise tax on gas to fund its university system. The Torrico Initiative — also known as Bill AB 656 — passed in the state assembly on Jan. 12, and is currently under debate in the Senate.

UCOP Academic Senator Henry Powell said that even if Schwarzenegger’s amendment never reaches fruition, it is nonetheless encouraging to see educational funding being discussed as a priority by the state.

“When the state stops investing in education, it stops investing in its future,” Powell said. “In 2025, we are going to need a million more degrees than we are ready to deliver … There’s an asymmetry there, between the needs of the state and the direction things are going. It’s a huge crisis.”

Readers can contact Hayley Bisceglia-Martin at [email protected]

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