Gov. Jerry Brown sought Thursday to calm worries of local law enforcement agencies by pledging support for a future ballot measure guaranteeing them a new source of funding.
Brown made that promise as his administration prepares this weekend to launch what he called a "bold" new plan to reduce prison crowding by transferring thousands of inmates to county jails.
"There's no turning back. The only way is forward," Brown said at the state Capitol, noting that the U.S.Supreme Court has ordered the state to reduce its prison population by 30,000 inmates.
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"This is new..but we can't sit still and let the courts turn loose 30,000 inmates. We have to do something," Brown said.
Brown's solution is called realignment.
It transfers responsibility for some inmates, supervising parolees, mental health, and other programs from Sacramento to the local government level.
More Prop Zero coverage of prisoner realignment:
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin, who heads the California State Sheriffs Association, countered criticism that the plan will leave counties paying a bill they can't afford.
"I say to them, this is a golden opportunity to fix a system that's been broken for decades. We applaud the governor for his tenacity, Pazin said.
To pay for the shift, Brown expects to eventually provide the counties with a billion dollars a year. To come up with that money, the governor is drafting a constitutional guarantee and a funding measure to put before voters.
"We do need more funding at the state level, that's why I proposed certain tax extensions last year," Brown said. "Sooner or later, we'll have a chance to vote on some additional funding."
What form that would take, Brown wasn't prepared to say. But he indicated the measure would also seek to protect other important programs like public education. If voters reject the idea, Brown said the only alternative would be an "austere path" of cuts.