Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger generated buzz this week when he tossed out an idea to have California pay to build and operate prisons in Mexico to save money on housing the state's illegal immigrant inmates.
Schwarzenegger's office said the governor has no concrete plan to do so and for now is focused on his other ideas on prisons. Those include obtaining $880 million from the federal government to pay for undocumented inmates, slashing the corrections budget by 12.7 percent and pursuing a ballot measure requiring that California spend more on universities than prisons.
The governor has a variety of motivations to target prisons, not least of which is public sentiment. The latest Public Policy Institute of California survey shows that Californians want to cut prisons and corrections more than any of the other three major areas to reduce the deficit; 70 percent said they support reductions there. In contrast, 65 percent oppose cutting spending on higher education.
Only 11 percent said they would pay higher taxes for prisons, compared to 50 percent who said they would do so for higher education.
Schwarzenegger's ballot idea likely would start with popular support, even if analysts have skewered it since he proposed it, some suggesting that the governor was pandering to voters. The Legislative Analyst's Office this week issued a scathing review calling the idea "ill-conceived" in part because it would make the budgeting process even more inflexible than it already is.
But Californians don't seem to be concerned about that problem. The PPIC poll found that 69 percent believe voters should have the power to make long-term decisions about the budget process at the ballot box, compared to 26 percent who think the governor and Legislature should do so in the Capitol.