As the costs for fixing the state's troubled corrections system rocket higher, California is headed for a dubious milestone -- for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.Our wondrous state legislature has decided to spend $7.4 billion to build 40,000 new prison beds - all in addition to the current annual prisons budget of more than $10 billion. "Interest payments alone on the billions of dollars of bonds that will be sold to finance the new construction will amount to $330 million a year by 2011."
Based on current spending trends, California's prison budget will overtake spending on the state's universities in five years. No other big state in the country spends close to as much on its prisons compared with universities.
Does the fact that we'll be investing in prisons far more than we'll be investing in higher education say anything about our priorities? Let's ask Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez:
"I'll tell you what, it's clearly not a statement of our priorities. Our policies are hurting the economy of California. This is a disservice to our economy."Well then, surely the new spending is supported by the legislators that oversee prison spending. Let's check in with Assemblyman Todd Spitzer, chairman of the committee overseeing the state's prison construction efforts:
"I'm not defending the damn department. The department is a shambles. They couldn't build their way out of a paper bag. Everyone has a reason to be skeptical. Everyone is holding their breath, hoping that this time they're successful."Well, I feel much better knowing that prison spending is not a higher priority than higher education (even though we're spending more on it), and that we don't actually believe that throwing money at the prison system will fix it (even though that's what we're doing instead of looking for solutions).
This is probably a very good thing, actually. Because when we allow our educational systems to go to hell, we'll have a higher and higher percentage of our population in prisons, and it will become a higher priority than education. And then, once everybody' in prison, we can educate them there! It all makes perfect sense.
NOTE: This post's title is in reference to two songs by the Dead Kennedys - California Über Alles and its sequel We've Got A Bigger Problem Now.