California just cut, borrowed and wished its way out of a $15.2-billion budget shortfall, but it still must find $8 billion to bring its severely overcrowded prisons up to constitutional standard. The state got into this fix by blindly adopting programs that swallow huge chunks of the budget but add no new money. Voters make it worse by passing tough-on-crime laws that fill up the prisons -- or would, if the prisons weren't already bursting.
This is the moment to come to our senses. The folly of automated spending increases is finally apparent. Federal judges are overseeing the prisons. Violent crime is dropping. The state has the opportunity to do a sweeping revamp both of the criminal justice system and the fatally flawed robo-budget.
Yet here comes Proposition 6, like a confused beast escaped from some other decade. Simply clueless about where California is in 2008, this supposed anti-gang measure would add new spending mandates -- nearly $1 billion to start -- and would bring the state closer to insolvency with automatic annual increases pegged to inflation. Of course, it would not raise taxes to supply the money, which would have to come from cuts in other programs, most likely the social service investments that help keep California's youth out of gangs in the first place.
It would impose new spending mandates on counties but block them from using certain funds for drug or mental-health treatment. It would mandate new jail and prison construction, as if California weren't already being forced by federal courts to ease inmate crowding. It would compel courts to treat more juvenile offenders as adults.
In addition to being a budget buster, Proposition 6 is a bureaucracy builder, creating a new state office to distribute public-service announcements about crime.
Voters can learn a valuable lesson from a 2006 anti-sex-offender measure that was so flawed it made hundreds of offenders homeless and more likely to re-offend. That initiative also failed to mention who would pay for its mandate to track ex-cons for life by satellite, so that answer has been wedged into Proposition 6, which in turn creates more problems that likely will require more ballot measures -- unless we stop this foolhardy ballot-box policing now.
The Times urges a no vote on Proposition 6.