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Editorial

Governor Brown is lowballing the savings from Proposition 47

As California’s crime rate bottomed out last year and began to rise again, some law enforcement leaders and elected officials complained that they had been misled. All those programs they had been promised that were supposed to help addicts and former inmates reenter society safely, without committing new crimes, had failed to materialize.

Consider, for example, this assertion by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in his State of the City speech in April:

“The safety net that was supposed to come with criminal justice reform? It’s simply not there.”

The implication is that someone, somewhere, had failed to follow through on a commitment. Local leaders point increasingly to Proposition 47, the 2014 ballot measure that reclassified certain drug possession crimes and several property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors — and required the savings recouped by the state prison system, by no longer having to house so many felons, to be reallocated to anti-recidivism, education and victim services programs.

In fact, Proposition 47 is right on schedule, and local leaders know it. The state calculates prison savings on an annual basis, and the first full year under the ballot measure does not end until June 30. Counties and cities will then submit their requests, and funds will begin flowing later this year.

The problem is not that the money is late — it’s not — but rather that Gov. Jerry Brown may be lowballing the actual savings figure. Instead of the $150 million that the state legislative analyst projected would be saved, the governor identified only a small fraction of that in his January spending plan. In the revised budget he released last week, he upped the figure — but only to $40 million, well short of the mark.

There are many ways to crunch numbers. Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles, for example, used to be an L.A. City Hall bureaucrat and learned to cover up savings in order to keep it on hand for other projects.

“I know how to hide money,” he told a gathering of residents and activists at the Community Coalition in South Los Angeles recently. “I know how to block budgets.”

Jones-Sawyer promised to use that savvy to press the governor’s bureaucrats for a larger, more realistic savings figure to be distributed under Proposition 47.

We take him at his word — and hold him to it. The same goes for other members of the Legislature, whose home counties and cities need the funding guaranteed under the ballot measure. It falls to them, in the few weeks before the budget is finalized, to go to bat for California voters who have demanded a fundamental shift in criminal justice spending from prison expansions to locally based crime prevention and anti-recidivism programs.

The Los Angeles City Council and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, along with other local governments, have adopted resolutions urging the governor to use the formula employed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which calculates the savings at more than three times the governor’s current number.

Meanwhile, they and other local governments should be preparing their proposals for wisely spending the first allocations of funding this summer. L.A. city and county representatives have been conducting a series of workshops around the county to assess needs and solicit ideas, in order to squeeze as much as possible — in reentry services, drug treatment, mental health treatment, victim assistance and anything else to deter crime and prevent its recurrence — from each dollar that Proposition 47 saves.

At last week's workshop in Van Nuys, service providers who have been trying for years to help crime victims and former inmates back on their feet spoke of the good they could do, the services they could expand, the people they could help, if only they had some funding. The need is great. Even $150 million, spread across the state, will be a small slice of what is needed. But it is more, and better, than $40 million, and it better reflects what voters demanded.

The workshop was led in part by City Hall's Office of Reentry. Garcetti wisely created that office to coordinate such services from City Hall, so although he may lose a point for suggesting a promise was broken, he gains it back by working to ensure the safe and responsible return of inmates to their communities.

Until recently, Garcetti's counterparts in L.A. County government had lagged behind the rest of the state in targeting recidivism. Now the county is at the head of the class, acknowledging that it, like the state, has saved money because of Proposition 47 because of reduced caseloads. It’s now trying to quantify those savings so they can be put to work — and it's making sure that county bureaucrats don’t lowball the figure the same way the governor has done.

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