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Show Me The Money: Federal Court Challenges the Governator

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Recently, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger revealed that the state needs over $8 billion in spending cuts and additional taxes.  Further, California owes millions to the state prison system, which must make significant improvements to its medical system in order to comply with constitutional standards.  This news comes as a slap in the face to many Californians who are suffering through a dire economic crisis and voted against Proposition 5, a ballot measure which would have allocated money to improve mental health services for prisoners.

In 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco took control of the California prison medical system after reports indicated severe neglect and incompetence caused about one inmate to die per week.  In order to fix the system, however, money will need to be taken from vital services such as schools, the university, or the police department. 

So far, California has refused to show Judge Henderson the money.  I think California Attorney General Jerry Brown is wise in refusing to turn over more funds to a bureaucracy that has failed to make progress despite spending even more for healthcare than outside healthcare operators.  Brown has asked state and prison officials to draw up specific construction plans which only implement the minimum-needed improvements.  However, the state Legislature has twice rejected bonds which would cover the cost of drafting such plans.   

Although the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted California a temporary reprieve, eventually the state will need to pay up.  And if Schwarzenegger and State Controller John Chiang are found in contempt, they could face harsh fines-possibly $2 million per day-until they surrender the money.  Hopefully officials can work together to make efficient plans for improvement before even more taxpayer dollars are wasted.

Ken LaMance

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