The poll asked voters if they would support or oppose cuts in 14 areas of state spending to reduce the budget deficit. Majorities of voters favored making cuts in only two of the 14 categories.
“The voters really aren’t showing us the way on these kinds of things,” said Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo. “Previous surveys have shown that they do favor spending cuts over tax increases, yet when you ask them which areas of state spending would you favor cutting, the big categories are rejected by large margins.”
Reductions in two areas were favored by majorities of voters polled — prisons and correctional facilities, 56 percent, and state parks and recreational facilities, 52 percent.
I'm sure the same voters all want lower taxes, of course. That seems like par for the course these days. Still, it's interesting that prisons topped the list of cuts Golden State voters say they could live with. I wonder if a Texas poll would discover similar results here?
Increasingly I find TDCJ's call for exclusion from budget cuts ill-conceived, and even more so their suggestion that, if necessary, cuts should come from probation and diversion programs instead of prisons. Compared to other big-ticket items, corrections is the one area where Texas can cut safely and smartly. On schools and health care, the financial dynamics are more complex and problematic. School finance is its own nasty mess and every dollar cut from healthcare loses $2 from the feds.
For corrections, though, Texas knows what path will get us there: Expand diversion programs, adjust sentencing policies, and close older, more expensive prison units or eliminate contracted beds we don't need. It won't be difficult to identify units for possible closure. More than three out of five Texas prisoners are eligible for parole; many could be released safely if we'd beef up supervision and reentry resources for parolees. With a few, key policy adjustments, thousands more could be diverted into strong probation on the front end.
So the best reason to cut corrections during a budget crisis is because, as opposed to schools and healthcare, it's actually possible and reasonable to do so. If it turns out that, as in California, the public supports prison cuts more than other possible strategies to reduce spending, it'll be hard to argue that TDCJ's prison budget should somehow remain sacrosanct.