Very interesting stuff going on.
This afternoon we got the Leak of the Week from Capitol Weekly - a look at Dennis Hollingsworth's letter to his entire caucus. It's in budget-ese, but Zed is positively giddy about all the cuts to social services, all the denial of fee increases, and he's basically telling his caucus they got everything they wanted. It was good to see the inside thinking, especially if Yacht Party members turned around and voted against the budget. They know that their preferred option is deeply unpopular, and would rather distance themselves from this solution and make the Democrats own the budget. So this was a key document counteracting that.
Then at around 2:30, Michael Rothfeld changed his original process story about legislators building support for the deal into this bombshell:
The state budget deal negotiated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders would reduce the population of California prisons by nearly 27,000 inmates in the current fiscal year.
That would be done with a combination of new measures, including allowing some inmates to finish their sentences on home detention, creating new incentives for completion of rehabilitation programs and scaling back parole supervision for the least serious offenders.
The proposal, details of which were obtained by The Times, would save a total of $1.2 billion in the coming year.
It is unclear whether Republicans will vote for a budget plan that includes reduction of the state prison system, which now houses 170,000 inmates. Some GOP votes are needed to pass a budget in California.
If Republicans demur, the Democrats who dominate the Legislature could approve the prison proposal as separate legislation with a simple majority vote, which would not require GOP support [...]
The budget plan also would create a sentencing commission to reexamine the state penal code, which would not save money immediately but would advance plans under discussion by lawmakers for years. The commission would be charged with establishing new sentencing guidelines by July 1, 2012.
Prisons are slated for $1.2 billion in cuts in the budget, and most stories last night claimed that included no early release. Clearly Republicans - and possibly the Governor - saw those cuts as best employed by turning the prisons into Public Storage units, cutting all drug treatment and vocational training programs and reducing corrections officer overtime. So this looked to be a bait-and-switch by the Democratic legislature.
Except nobody seems to know how the LA Times got this story. And less than an hour later, Sam Blakeslee alerts the media:
Throughout budget negotiations we insisted that Republican votes would never be provided for a budget deal that included early release of prisoners.
Our caucus and staff developed a cut strategy for corrections that provided the necessary savings to close the deficit without risking public safety.
We had a clear understanding with the democrats that NO corrections bill would be a part of the budget and that we would have an honest chance to contest the policy issues in the light of day in August.
Just two hours ago I learned from staff that Senate democrats are concocting a radioactive corrections bill that includeds the worst of the worst _ sentencing commission and release of 27,000 prisoners, etc
When I spoke with Dennis he was as surprised and upset as I was regarding what appears to be a serious breach of the agreement in the Big 5.
I have called and personally told both Karen and Darrell that their will be no republican votes for any portion of the budget if they allow such a bill to be part of the package.
This seems just a little too neat to me. This report was leaked to the Times anonymously, after a separate email from the Senate GOP gets leaked showing what a great snow job they think they got over the Democrats. And then Blakeslee has an email out to his caucus - within less than an hour of the story leak - that comes up with a credible reason to shut down the deal, blaming those double-crossing Democrats.
FWIW I'd love a sentencing commission/early release of nonviolent offenders bill to become a reality, but I hardly believe that Senate Democrats, who as a caucus have participated in 30 years' worth of sentencing increases, and who scuttled a sentencing commission bill from Gloria Romero just last year, would sneak this into a budget bill out of nowhere, with complete language less than a day after a deal was reached. It would be completely out of line with prior history. It doesn't scan at all.
But it's sure a bonne chance for Republicans to have this fall in their lap...
...OK, so the Governor's Corrections Secy is briefing reporters. And will you look at that, the Times' story was wrong, as was Asm. Blakeslee! The report of 27,000 released is misleading, says the Secretary, but the Administration is interested in some reforms, including a sentencing commission. Wow, that's great, at least in theory. They are offering early release credits that would maybe release 1,700 total. This looks more and more like a coordinated hissy fit laundered through a compliant media.