” I Read the News Today”

“I read the news today oh boy, About a lucky man who made the grade.” The Beatles

"Is he saying we're number1 or is he pointing to the only One who can help the California budget crisis?"

Imagine my surprise last Friday when I opened up the LA Times and there on page one of the LA EXTRA section I read the news “Brown drops plan for new death row.” What? Could it be true? Was the Governor actually scrapping plans for a $356 million death row remodel that’s been in the works for years ? After all the negative publicity he received over the contract agreement he made with the 30,000 member prison guard union a few weeks ago, he needed to do something.

Critics claim the contract proposals Brown agreed to won’t cut state spending nearly enough and fall $129 million short of what he promised in his budget plan. They also claim that the deal was a political “pay off” to a major campaign contributor. At first glance it may appear that way, but actually, the agreement ironed out with the Correctional Officers Union and five other state employees unions which does away with furlough days, increase state employees’ pension contributions and temporarily cut pay for a year before giving top earners a raise in 2013, is virtually identical to pacts made by the former Republican “Governator” with other unions last fall, and lawmakers had no problem approving those contracts. Additionally, unions that supported Republican Meg Whitman in her bid for governor are getting the same labor agreements that are being offered to groups that supported Brown.

Perhaps the biggest issue raised was a provision in the prison guards’ new contract that removes a limit on how much vacation, sick time and other paid time off they can accrue. Brown viewed it as a minor concession. For years the state has consistently failed to enforce the 640-hour, or 16-week, limit in large part because it is difficult to schedule time off for workers whose agencies must operate 24/7. On average prison guards have 19 weeks of leave time accrued. Brown felt that the cap wasn’t doing anything anyway, so giving it up was trivial compared to the overall contract.

Now he has rightly gone and put the needs the seniors and children of our great state over death row inmates. Way to go Governor Moonbeam! You made the Grade!  Thank you for recognizing that such an expenditure would be a gross misuse of public funds given our current budgetary shortfall. “At a time when children, the disabled and seniors face painful cuts to essential programs, the state of California cannot justify a massive expenditure of public dollars for the worst criminals in our state,” Brown said. “California will have to find another way to address the housing needs of condemned inmates. Spending that money on a new Death Row while making budget cuts in other services would be “unconscionable.”

The San Quentin remodel project which some believe is desperately needed, is a plan devised in better days before the economy headed south and threw the state into fiscal crisis. I believe Brown made the right decision. This is definitely not the time to proceed with a death row remodeling project. Construction costs for the new building will save taxpayers about $125 million in the next fiscal year alone and $28.5 million per year for the next 25 years.
Although the facilities for death row inmates at San Quentin is antiquated and deemed unsafe by many,  lawmakers have tried for years to block construction of the new Death Row and battled intensely with former the former Governator over the project. Brown’s decision is widely welcomed. Death Row was never supposed to be a long-term retirement home for felons, but only a holding pen until their executions. Perhaps if past governors had focused more on implementing the death penalty we wouldn’t have all these people still living on Death Row. Perhaps it’s time to revisit the death penalty as a viable tool in the war on crime. Perhaps we should begin today.
Just a Thought…
J S
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