The heads of the Legislature's two budget committees Thursday supported efforts to defeat Proposition 120, the $450-million prison bond issue on Tuesday's ballot, saying the state can't afford it because of a looming budget deficit.
"The prisons are breaking our backs and breaking our banks," said Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-San Jose), chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose), chairman of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, said the $2-billion annual Corrections Department budget has become "a fiscal black hole" drawing money away from programs for the homeless and needy.
"I, for one, have become very tired of providing $100-million palaces for our criminals while we have law-abiding citizens sleeping in the streets," Alquist said.
Proposition 120 is the latest in a series of prison construction measures that state officials say are necessary to keep up with the huge surge in inmates that began in the early 1980s with a wave of new felony sentencing laws. The measure would allow the issuance of $450 million in bonds to pay for construction of a new prison in Imperial County and finance additional construction and land acquisition projects. Principal and interest payments over 20 years to pay off the bonds would amount to $805 million.
The comments by Vasconcellos and Alquist come against the backdrop of a $3.6-billion gap between the cost of providing state services next year and the money that will be available from tax collections.
Vasconcellos said this is the first time he has opposed a prison bond issue. He also vowed to oppose any more felony sentencing bills.
The lawmakers appeared at a Capitol news conference with other opponents of Proposition 120. Barbara Bloom, representing a coalition of groups operating as the Criminal Justice Consortium, noted that more than half the state's 90,000 prisoners are now incarcerated for nonviolent crimes. She said that in 1989 California imprisoned 34,000 people for technical parole violations, compared to a combined 19,000 prisoners incarcerated in the other 49 states for similar offenses.