I welcome the governor’s recognition that investment in higher education is a more productive use of state funds than investment in corrections, and that the state has cut all it can from higher education. Nevertheless, I’m hard-pressed to understand where his numbers come from. In the 2009/2010 budget, summarized online here, 12.5% of the general fund and 10.2 percent of the state budget go to higher education. Corrections receive 9.7% of the general fund and 6.9% of the state budget. Thus, the statement is no guarantee that higher education will benefit from this proclamation. Furthermore, I am troubled by the assumption that savings on prisons and additional spending for higher education can come from contracting and privatization alone.
We need much more than statements now, to truly resolve our human capital issues. A more realistic approach would:
1) Recognize that in times of severe fiscal stress, it is the height of irresponsibility to keep discussion of new means of revenue generation, including taxes, off the table. At some point, revenue increases must accompany a workable system, and tax increases may be part of the mix. Those who have benefited from the strength of the state’s economy in times past to the extent that they still have strong income and revenues should support a mandate to maintain state strength by contributing more to the recovery.
2) Recognize that incarceration is not the answer to all law breaking activity. While it is imperative to keep violent criminals off the street, the 3 strikes law goes far beyond this. To the extent that we pay far more per capita to house a prisoner than to educate our children and young adults, more attention needs to be focused on options to educate youth with the goal of giving them options to stay out of the prison system, as well as to rehabilitation within the corrections system, so that we may have productive, income producing citizens, rather than a cycle that fosters continuing criminal behavior.
3) Maintain the flexible, inclusive higher education system that has been key to the state’s economic strengths. This is a time to renew our investments, rather than disinvest in higher education.