Last week, Treasurer Lockyer and Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg each called for targeted cuts in Republican districts. They were both non-specific, but the clear target was to both shake the trees for a few Republican votes and to make voters in the district hold their leaders accountable. The generality of the threat made it political rather than policy.
But that’s not Peter Schrag’s style. Schrag, the longtime columnist for the Sacramento Bee and author of several books on California governance, knows his policy. So, rather than just saying cutting in red districts, he has some ideas with specifics.
The obvious first question: are these serious ideas or just threats? And to what extent could the legislature’s Democratic majority do it even if they wanted to? But in some instances, targeting Republican districts might be good policy even if it’s not unequivocally good politics.
The most obvious example is the state’s costly class-size reduction program (CSR). Ever since Gov. Pete Wilson, in a blatantly political maneuver intended to punish the teacher unions, arm-twisted the legislature into the hasty adoption of CSR in grades K-3 some fifteen years ago, there have been serious doubts about its effectiveness. … Nonetheless, despite the program’s erosion under the budget pressures of the past couple of years, it still costs the state over a billion dollars a year. CSR probably shouldn’t be abandoned, but it should be focused on the low income students and English learners who most need the additional attention and who, according to most research, are the most likely to benefit.
That change of focus would hit affluent Republican districts harder than those represented by Democrats, but it would almost certainly be the more effective use of resources that conservatives always demand. (CPR)
Another idea he has is to reform sentencing, particularly 3 strikes to reduce the size of the “Central Valley prison archipelago.” This one, in terms of sound policy, is really a no-brainer. Politics, well, that’s another story. Unlike CSR, there should be no serious argument about this on pure policy perspective. Undeniably we are warehousing prisoners that should not be in the system.
In the end, as Schrag points out, this might score a few points, and save a few billion. However, we can’t balance the budget that way. We need revenues, no matter how you slice or dice the problem.