Steve Frank, publisher of Stephen Frank’s California Political News and Views and a past president of the arch-conservative California Republican Assembly, let his rhetoric get in the way of facts with this tirade he posted today:
A judge has ruled that criminals are not comfortable in California prisons. he is about to rule that the State must give him $250 million now and $3 billion by the end of June, 2009. The State does not have the money, even if it were a good expenditure — which it is not. The judge would literally be taking money from children, education, the elderly and public safety. He would need, according to Dan Walters, sent Federal agents to steal the money. The bigger question here is if the judge can take the money, what stops another judge from saying we are abusing our children by not spending $20,000 per year on their education–and taking that money. Then you have welfare programs a judge can rule are under funded–and the Feds can steal that money. At what point do we stop electing governors and legislators and just give in to a totalitarian State run by unelected Federal judges. If the judge gets a dime, we no longer need Sacramento — judges will budget and tax us.
Well, I covered this hearing Monday, and Frank’s description parts with reality in several ways. Let’s break it down.
(1.) “A judge has ruled that criminals are not comfortable in California prisons.” No, a judge has ruled that criminals’ constitutional rights are being violated because they’re needlessly dying due to healthcare so poor it qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment. We’re not talking about sofas and televisions, we’re talking about basic medical care.
(2.) “State does not have the money, even if it were a good expenditure — which it is not.” It’s not a matter of “good” expenditure or “bad” expenditure; the state long ago lost a class-action lawsuit, then failed to meet the court’s requirements for fixing the problem, and so only then lost control of its own prison healthcare system. It has known for years the fix would be costly, and even has known the exact amount since early this year, and still has failed to act.
(3.) “The judge would literally be taking money from children, education, the elderly and public safety.” Actually, no — the $250 million the judge’s receiver is demanding in the coming weeks is already appropriated specifically for prison healthcare construction under AB 900, a $7.8 billion prison-expansion bill Schwarzenegger signed into law in May 2007. As for the rest of the $3.5 billion the receiver wants in this fiscal year, the state has clearly said it believes such money should come from lease-revenue bonds, not the general fund. It’s just that Legislative Republicans have blocked all efforts to raise this money so far.
(4.) “He would need, according to Dan Walters, sent Federal agents to steal the money.” That’s not what Dan said; he clearly posed that as a rhetorical hypothetical.
(5.) “The bigger question here is if the judge can take the money, what stops another judge from saying we are abusing our children by not spending $20,000 per year on their education — and taking that money. Then you have welfare programs a judge can rule are under funded — and the Feds can steal that money.” Well, only if the state loses class-action lawsuits proving it has denied schoolkids or welfare recipients their constitutional rights, and then utterly fails to remediate the problem. Again, the state has had many years in which to address this on its own, and chose not to do so; now it’s out of the state’s hands.
This sounds like yet another case of conservatives complaining whenever a judge finds government has failed to do its job, and requires it to step up and do so. It’s not judicial activism; the judiciary’s very purpose is to guarantee everyone — even unpopular felons — their constitutional rights, and that’s exactly what it’s doing here. This is how government is supposed to work, the judiciary checking and balancing the executive and Legislative branches’ abject failure. California dodged these costs for years, and now some just can’t stand that the tab has finally come due.
True, it’s unfortunate that this happens during a budget crunch and economic downturn — though if Sacramento would buck up and fix our structural deficit by creating reasonable revenue streams, we wouldn’t be in this mess — but that’s precisely the kind of political concern judges aren’t supposed to harbor. Again, California saw this coming yet continues to bury its head in the sand and blame it on the judge rather than taking responsibility for its own shortcomings.