When voters passed Proposition 30 last week, schools were seen as the big winners, but they're not the only ones. Jails and probation offices got a boost too.
The tax measure widely celebrated as a windfall for education includes a guarantee of public-safety funding for counties -- to manage the influx of criminals that the state has been shifting into county hands.
Under Gov. Jerry Brown's year-old realignment program, counties now oversee low-level inmates and parolees once handled by the state. Money has been of top concern with the shift, as county leaders have struggled to beef up jails, probation programs and rehab services to oversee the additional offenders.
"This funding guarantee is huge," said Linda Penner, Fresno County's chief probation officer. "I had a lot of confidence that Gov. Brown would provide money for our new responsibilities, but what if we got a new governor and a new Legislature? Absent this governor, we'd be at risk."
Like Penner, many law enforcement leaders worried that managing extra criminals would become an unfunded mandate: State leaders would require the additional work, but not provide the money. While not everyone is happy about realignment, most are pleased that at least now it comes with the promise of cash.
The Brown-sponsored Prop. 30 includes a constitutional amendment sending a slice of existing sales tax dollars and vehicle license fees to counties to cover realignment costs.
More notably, the proposition increased the state sales tax and income tax to generate as much as $6 billion a year, most of it pledged for schools. Adding public-safety funding to the mix not only helped Brown honor his commitment to realignment but helped win broader support for the tax measure, which passed with 54% of Tuesday's vote.
"Gov. Brown brought everybody to the table and very adroitly explained this is going to be good for everyone," said Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, who was president of the California State Sheriff's Association when the group met with the governor about the initiative.
This fiscal year, roughly $850 million will come to counties for the realignment, an amount expected to increase to more than $1 billion next year. Funding in future years will be proportional to state tax revenues.
Counties are free to spend the money on their new criminal populations as they see fit.
Brown introduced the realignment as a way to reduce overcrowding in state prisons. Because of it, county jails and probation departments have ended up with tens of thousands more felons under their watch.
While Prop. 30 has been widely praised by the law-enforcement community, it hasn't solved all of the financial concerns associated with realignment. Many believe that the state money has fallen short.
The financial problems have been particularly acute in the Valley, where local leaders say they haven't gotten their fair share of realignment funds.
"We have greater protection that money will flow. Now it's about how we allocate that money among the 58 counties in a more equitable fashion," said John Navarrette, Fresno County's top executive.
The formula that divvies out state realignment funding changed this year, and the 12 counties between Kern and San Joaquin ended up with a smaller percentage. Seven of nine Bay Area counties, by comparison, are getting a larger chunk.
Leaders in Sacramento said the new distribution of realignment funds is not meant to hurt Valley counties. It's meant to help counties that already are lessening the state's prison load by investing in diversion programs. Programs such as electronic monitoring, house arrest and rehabilitation help divert people from prisons and cut down on repeat offenders.
This week, the Kern County Board of Supervisors is expected to pass a resolution protesting the latest round of funding. A similar resolution is expected to go before Fresno County supervisors in December.
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