Friday, February 20, 2009

the budget to end all budgets

Early Thursday morning, the state legislature finally voted for a budget deal through 2010. It raises income tax 0.25% and raises sales tax 1% - both regressive taxes - and cuts about $15 billion in spending, including cuts to education funding.

In the 1970s, when California was the future, the state spent more on education than any other in the US. California schools were also the envy of every other state, renowned worldwide, and understood by politicians, government officials, and the public at large as the best investment we could make in the state's economy. Now, California's per-student expenditure on education is 49th among 50 states. Sometime soon, spending on prisons will exceed education.

The budget deal also calls for a special election on propositions allowing the state to eliminate the requirement that lottery funds all go toward education, and to impose a spending cap on the state. If the spending cap passes, and since there is no political will to cut spending on prisons, and the prison population continues to increase, one of the few discretionary parts of the budget - education - will have to be cut more as prison spending goes up.

I'm not an economist, so the logic of this escapes me. Spending on the CSU, we've learned, ultimately repays the state more than four-fold, because people with college educations earn more, thus they spend more, and also pay more personal income tax, property tax, etc. So, I'd think, funding education, including higher ed, is a way to increase the state's revenue. But apparently, for reasons I can't fathom, putting money into prisons, where inmates don't earn incomes, where they don't contribute to the productivity of the state's workforce, is somehow a higher budget priority.

That's not to say I'm necessarily anti-prison. I don't think I'm an abolitionist. I imagine that there are people who are deliberately criminal, rather than out of desperation or insanity.

But really, is this the best we can do for our society?

Anyway, it's Friday, and I'm off to cellblock H campus.


Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

I guess they figure that being in prison is the only education anyone needs.

No Celery Please said...

"Sometime soon, spending on prisons will exceed education"

This could be a causal relationship