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Commentary: California Prisons are Budget Busters

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 23, 2010
The proper role and size of government. That’s a hot topic in candidate political ads, Tea Party rallies and legislative budget hearings. The rhetoric, however, often strays far from reality. 
So the timing is right for the California Budget Project’s fascinating new report on the state workforce. It’s a myth-buster.
California actually ranked dead last among the 50 states in state workers per population in three of the last ten years, and, it was 48th in 2008, the last year Census data is available.
But before you dismiss the idea that California has a problem, consider this. While it is true that state workers per thousand residents has remained mostly stable over 20 years, some departments have seen steep increases.
For example, the state prison workforce increased 123%. As the California Budget Project report subhead declares in big letters: “Corrections Employment Has More Than Doubled Over the Past Two Decades.” Nothing else comes close to that. The University of California, for example, posted a 50 percent increase.
In fact, if you take out prison workers, the number of state employees per Californian has actually declined in the last 20 years.
So there it is. California has a prison problem. Let’s see lawmakers, the governor and candidates running for office tackle that one.
Pia Lopez writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.
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