SACRAMENTO (AP) — Gov. Jerry Brown told county officials Thursday that he will make good on his promise to provide adequate funding for a new law that sends inmates convicted of lower-level offenses to county jails instead of state prison.
County supervisors are concerned they won't have enough money to handle the estimated 26,000 additional inmates coming their way each year. They are pursuing a November ballot initiative that would guarantee state funding for law enforcement.
Brown is seeking the same protections with his own ballot initiative, which also includes $7 billion in additional money from higher income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, and a half-cent increase in the sales tax for five years. He urged the association representing California's 58 counties to stop its campaign plans and join his effort.
The California State Association of Counties' board of directors later voted to suspend the counties' initiative drive, but delayed a debate on supporting Brown's proposal until a future meeting.
The governor's request came as he tries to persuade other interest groups to drop their efforts to put tax increases on the ballot this fall, saying he wants voters to have just one tax issue before them.
"It's obvious not all of them can pass, and the more confusion, the more difficult it will be," he told the counties' association.
He said his proposal is better because it includes money for schools and other programs that otherwise could face deeper budget cuts.
"It includes everything your initiative has, plus it's got some money attached to it," Brown told the supervisors. He added that "people want to see that the schools are adequately funded and they want to see public safety protected, and the initiative does that."
He made the appeal the same day he released his budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. His budget would require nearly $5 billion in cuts to public education if voters reject the tax increases in November.
If counties insist on competing with Brown's plan, both initiatives could fail, the governor warned. That could result in a "squabble" that could harm counties' relationship with his office, he said.
Association President Mike McGowan of Yolo County said supervisors fear that voters could reject Brown's higher taxes and with it their funding guarantee.
Brown responded he has the authority to call a special election on law enforcement funding if that occurs. He declined to elaborate when he was questioned by reporters.
"I'm not going to anticipate anything other than victory, but we're going to get the job done," he said. "I did make a pledge that I will do everything I can to put a constitutional protection into the California constitution to get the realignment funding, and I'll do that. So if you don't get it one way, you've got to get it another way."
Of the 50 county representatives who attended the meeting, 45 voted to suspend their initiative drive.
California is sending more criminals to counties to cut state spending and to comply with a federal court order upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. The lower court said California must ease prison crowding to improve inmate care.
The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation reported Tuesday that it had met the court's first deadline of reducing the number of inmates by about 10,000. The state is on track to reduce the state's inmate population by 33,000, or 23 percent, over two years.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, president of the state sheriffs' association, said some counties are still seeing a higher-than-expected increase in criminals they must handle, though corrections officials expect the early surge to level off. The concern is not current state funding, he said, but guaranteeing the money in future years.