Prop Zero
The Starting Point for Commentary and Coverage of California Politics

How Budget Cuts Cost State Cash

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One reason it's so hard to balance California's budget: Even measures to cut the budget can end up costing the state cash.

Just take a look at this new audit of prisons and prison health care.

To save money, the state imposed job cuts and furloughs of employees across the government, including in the prisons. According to the audit, under the state's rules for vacation and leave, state staff have to take their furlough days before they take vacation and leave day and thus build up very large amounts of leave time -- in large part because of the furloughs. (California Watch explained how this works in an excellent story earlier this year).

Eventually, the state will have to pay out for those extra vacation days, and it will cost the state at least $546 million and potentially more than $1 billion, depending on a number of factors.

One other reason to take a look at the audit: It shows how California voters are responsible for higher prison costs, because of their approval of longer sentencing laws such as the famous three-strikes law. Inmates sentenced under three-strikes now make up 25 percent of the prison population and, the audit concludes, "receive sentences that are, on average, nine years longer -- resulting in about $19.2 billion in additional costs over the duration of their incarceration."

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