How California Can Resist Trump: Reflect Our Values in the Budget

By Zachary Norris, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

On January 10th, Governor Brown announced his 2017–2018 budget proposal with overall state spending of approximately $125 billion dollars.

The budget includes many positive increases in funding for education, healthcare, and rehabilitative and reentry programs — but given the destructive agenda of president-elect Donald Trump who is on the cusp of taking office, the state must proactively take advantage of opportunities to significantly increase reinvestment into the communities most harmed by criminalization and incarceration.

With the dark shadow of Trump’s presidency looming before us, California can establish itself as a rebel state. Several state lawmakers have pledged that California will be a bulwark against the damaging effects of a Trump presidency, and that they will organize in resistance. To launch this resistance and lead the way for cities and states across the country, we must see our budget as a moral document which reflects our values — prioritizing the safety, dignity, and human rights of the people.

To that end, the budget maintains California’s commitment to Medi-Cal, presuming a slight increase in enrollment in the face of president-elect Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans’ promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In addition, Governor Brown proposes an 55% increase in K-14 funding from 2011–12 during the recession.

Regarding criminal justice, the Governor proposes a complete repeal of the law that allows the Department of Motor Vehicles to deprive someone of a driver’s license due to unpaid fines. This repeal is a critical step towards undoing a punishment economy that penalizes people, particularly Black and Brown communities, for being poor.

The Governor also proposes to eliminate a so-called gang reduction grants program (CALGRIPP) to law enforcement funded by fines and fees, which disproportionately target low-income people. With no proven positive outcomes, CALGRIPP has long been criticized by advocates as funding a war on people of color.

Last November, California voters passed Proposition 57, a Governor-sponsored initiative that grants the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) the authority to expand credits for people in state prison for meeting educational, rehabilitative, or “good behavior” goals, allows people convicted of nonviolent felonies to be eligible for parole consideration after finishing the full term of their primary offense, and requires judges instead of prosecutors to decide whether youth should be tried as adults. For this initiative to be successful, the state must expand credit earning opportunities for people in state prison so that they are able to gain skills, earn parole, and succeed post-release.

The Governor’s proposed investment of $440 million in rehabilitative and reentry programs (an increase of $140 million from the 2012–13 budget cycle) is an important step towards providing people with support and treatment during their incarceration and as they return to their communities. Educational and vocational programs that lead to college degrees and certifications will reduce recidivism and enhance the successful reentry of people leaving prison.

However, it is critical that the state be vigilant in monitoring these programs so that people are receiving high-quality and effective services that will help them find success when they return home.

Some of this programming will happen behind prison walls, but California can be a leader for other states across the country by budgeting for more significant investment in community-based approaches offering quality job training, educational resources, housing assistance, and healthcare.

While we believe people inside prison should have access to quality programming, the overall corrections budget should be shrinking significantly considering the decrease of more than 1,300 people in prison. In particular, the Ella Baker Center opposes any prison expansion, such as the California Leadership Academy, a new prison for young adults described in the Governor’s proposal.

Recently passed initiatives like Propositions 47 and 57 demonstrate that Californians support a reduction in spending on prisons and punishment, and an increase in community reinvestment.

Based on Prop 47 criminal justice savings estimates, the Governor’s budget proposes an investment of almost $43 million to fund schools, victim services, and mental health and addiction programs. This is a first step towards moving resources away from prisons and towards communities, but we believe the savings from Prop 47 are significantly underestimated in the Governor’s budget.

In addition to measures that do not sufficiently reduce prison spending, Governor Brown’s budget also proposes cutting the $400 million from last year’s budget allocated toward the creation of affordable housing, and cutting $45 million in matching grants for counties to assist homeless people’s enrollment in supplemental security income, and other state and federal entitlements to allow them to access housing and food assistance.

As many fear that president-elect Trump will likely decimate much-needed services for low-income people and communities of color, California lawmakers have the opportunity and responsibility to invest more resources in protecting the most vulnerable among us — not less.

During a time when Trump and his proposed cabinet are amplifying hate, intolerance, and injustice on the national stage, it is more important than ever that California’s leaders fill a moral vacuum and ensure that our budget reflect our values. The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights urges the Legislature and Governor to begin their resistance to Trump with a budget that shifts our priorities from punishment to care, reinvests in communities, and advances true public safety for us all.

Organize with us to demand budgets that fulfill the needs of our communities by joining the Ella Baker Center’s membership today.