Law Enforcement Funding Sleight of Hand

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Over and over again, shame on all of us.

Yet Gov. Jerry Brown may be putting Californians in that predicament with his proposal to place a constitutional amendment before the voters in 2012 to guarantee funding for local law enforcement.

By mandating funds for this important area without defining the resources, Brown's proposal may further strangle California's ability to meet the state's many priorities.

Again and again, over the past few decades, Californians have voted to mandate funds for specific programs usually without providing the sources of those funds.

The biggest mandate comes with 40 percent of the state general fund designated for K-12 public education. But there are other recipients.

Californians have mandated that "third strike" criminals spend 25 years to life in state prisons. With 8,500 such prisoners, the tab at $50,000 each comes to $425,000,000 annually for this group alone.

Californians have also mandated spending for certain types of transportation, after school programs, children's health programs, and mental health programs.

Add up all the mandated spending and it amounts to more than two-thirds of the state budget, according to some experts.

The problem with mandated spending is that such commitments rarely include the funds needed for their implementation. Somehow, the legislature must find them.

At the same time, however, the voters have systematically reduced the ability of policy makers to raise revenues, again mostly through ballot propositions.

As recently as 2010, the voters passed an initiative that now requires a two-thirds vote by state and local governments for virtually every kind of tax increase.

So here's the ugly combination: On the one hand, we keep adding demands for more programmatic expenditures.

On the other hand, we keep adding restraints for revenue collection.

No wonder California begins each budget year in trouble.

Now comes Brown's newest proposal to constitutionally require funding of local law enforcement.

As a concept, that's a great idea, but where will we get the money? On that the governor has been silent, other than to say "Don't worry about the money. We'll get it to you one way or another."

That's the kind of language that has tied the state's budget hands.

We have been promised similar funding mechanisms ever since the days of Proposition 13 in 1978.

We're still waiting, even as the voters agree to additional commitments year after year.

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