There is an unprecedented funding crisis for adult probation in Texas. At the end of every fiscal biennium, the 122 CSCDs in the state return their unspent state funds to TDCJ-CJAD. The Legislative Budget Board counts on those refunds to fund part of the budget line for the first year of the following biennium.Appended was this email from the head of adult probation at TDCJ, Cary Welebob, who wrote to to local probation officials:
Based on past refunds, the LBB calculated in March of 2009, that the CSCDs would be refunding 19.8 million dollars. Since the economy went south in 2009, there was not much turnover in staff at the CSCDs (which is generally the main reason CSCDs have leftover money), so the refunds totaled only $13.1million. That means we are $6.7 million short for this year. This is not TDCJ-CJAD's fault or the CSCDs' fault. The LBB just over-calculated how much the CSCDs would return this year, and they were way off. The Chairman of the Probation Advisory Council (PAC) is Mike Wolfe of the Taylor County CSCD in Abilene, and he has called an emergency meeting of the PAC for Monday. The PAC is made up of representatives of from the CSCDs in the state, and will have to figure out what to do with this mess.
This has never happened before, so we are all going into uncharted territory.
Dear Directors:Nothing like a $6.7 million dollar hole in your budget to darken your day. The Legislative Budget Board may be obliged to begin some of its cost saving measures sooner than later if too many more speed bumps like this one crop up.
The Community Supervision and Corrections Departments' (CSCDs) refunds from the previous biennium (FY 2008-09) were not sufficient to fulfill the requirement of Rider 54 to fully fund the CSCDs for FY 2010. The Rider requires that refunds of $19.8M be used to fully fund our appropriated lines (Basic, Community Corrections, Diversion Program, and Treatment Alternative to Incarceration Program). For a variety of reasons, including success in adding staff/filling vacancies, the CSCDs are utilizing more of their funding across the board instead of returning unused funding in the form of refunds. The refunds for FY 2010 amounted to approximately $13.1 million, resulting in a shortfall of $6.7M for FY 2010 funding. This shortfall will not affect FY2011.
Over the past few legislative sessions, the method of finance used in the first year of a biennium has been based on refunds returned to the State by CSCDs. This rider has increased over time as refunds have increased. It was always possible that, at some point, not enough refunds would be returned to fund the line for the first year of the biennium. This is where we stand today.
The refund rider shortfall only affects FY 2010, as the full community supervision appropriation will be made in FY 2011. This refund shortfall is separate from the 5% Biennial Budget Reduction Plan submitted by TDCJ as requested by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House. It is important to note that TDCJ is seeking an exemption of the probation functions within its plan submission.
This has been an extremely difficult message for me to give to you, and we have analyzed numbers in many different ways to be sure that we are correct in the amount of refunds. I will be meeting with representatives from the Judicial Advisory Council (JAC) and the Probation Advisory Committee (PAC) to discuss options for funding reductions for the remainder of FY 2010. Additionally, health insurance costs for Basic Supervision will exceed our projected amount for FY10 so this issue will also be addressed during our discussion. As some of you have inquired, we have not sent out the refund notification letters yet, in case the refund formula is changed to identify funding used to support the shortfall. Until those decisions are made, we have sent the CSCDs the March payment instead of the full third quarter. It is my intention that these decisions will move quickly so that all departments can be aware of the amounts which will be received for the remainder of this fiscal year.
If you have specific questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me. Carey
State budget leaders should be careful here; the cost-per-day difference between probationers and state prison inmates is enormous. So if local probation departments take money away from diversion programs to pay for basic supervision (or if they reduce the number of POs and can't staff the extra programming), it could boost revocations to prison and end up costing the state much more.
On the bright side, according to TDCJ there's some $15.3 million in unspent diversion money that perhaps the state could raid on a one-time basis to cover the shortfall. That might push the problem off until next biennium, when it'd be up to the Lege to come up with a better solution. I'm sure these and related topics will be among those discussed at the upcoming House Corrections Committee meeting March 16 on community corrections and recidivism.
In addition, TDCJ already suggested budget cuts (though they asked for a waiver) including a $22 million reduction in basic supervision funding to adult probation departments, so there's a good chance that whatever solutions are discussed at Monday's PAC meeting could be revisited down the line, even if another fix is found for this short-term crisis.
For my part, I think it would be a mistake to gut probation funding when prison budgets remain so unseemly bloated. I'd rather see the state continue funding levels for adult probation this biennium by closing the two TYC lockups early and letting one or more private prison contracts expire.
In many ways, the issue presents in microcosm the choices the Legislature will face on corrections spending when they reconvene in 2011, so its useful to pay attention to the decisions being made on this matter as well as the priorities and players driving them.