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California: A prison system that runs schools on the side 
10th-Jan-2010 09:51 am
So, yesterday, I posed myself the question, "Why am I so ignorant of California and local politics?" To which one obvious response was, "Because I get most of my news from the BBC, The New York Times, and The Guardian. I only catch California news if I happen to have KQED on the radio while I'm driving." So I decided to spend some time this morning looking at the website of my actual local newspaper, The San Jose Mercury News.

I've never had much use for the print edition of the Mercury News, but their website is much better. Probably because the website makes it easy to skip over the international and national coverage that is better done elsewhere, and lets you get straight to the local stuff.

I found this interesting article on where the California state budget goes. (My only complaint is that it mostly talks about where increases in spending have gone, and I would love to see someone just lay out clearly where all of the money goes, and where all of the money comes from. I think that would be illuminating.) I was particularly appalled to see that the single biggest item in California's state budget is prisons, which have edged out education since the last time I looked up the numbers. Prison spending has increased 5-fold since 1994. What are we getting for all that spending? I'd be willing to bet crime hasn't fallen 5-fold since 1994.

I might be doing the math wrong, but it looks to me like the state could essentially balance its budget if it a) cut prison spending back to 1994-levels, and b) undid Schwarzenegger's cuts to the vehicle registration tax. Now, a) would not be trivial, and b) would not be popular, and the best solution to California's budget woes really ought to involve a more comprehensive overhaul of the way the state raises and spends revenue. But I'm kind of surprised that in the (admittedly little) discussion I've heard about the state budget woes, relatively little attention has been focused on the fact that California spends nearly $20 billion a year locking its citizens up and making it cheaper for them to own cars.
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