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What Does “Realignment” Mean in the California Budget Debate?

| February 4, 2011
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I keep hearing this word “realignment” in reference to Jerry Brown’s master plan for reworking the California budget into something…well…workable. But aside from the image of a steering wheel, I never really get a mental picture as to what the term means.

So naturally I asked John Myers, KQED’s Sacramento Bureau Chief, just what the wonks are talking about when they use the word. Here’s a sort of brief “Dummies Guide to Realignment,” from John.

Realignment is a kind of catch-all term, meaning nothing more in California governance than untangling some of the many knots tied over the decades in the relationship between state and local government.

Many, but not all, of those knots were tied in the years following the great rebenching of property taxes caused by 1978′s Prop 13.

In fact, realignment has been tried so often that the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office has a graphic of the many reform milestones since 1972, jokingly called ‘The Yellow Brick Road’ around the Capitol.

Governor Brown’s proposal is obviously born out of fiscal woes but also rooted, I think, in a desire to actually fix the system. His plan essentially would remove state government’s role in the delivery of services from court security to child welfare, while transferring control over parolees and many non-violent and non-sex offender inmates to jails in the counties from whence they came.

The real question at this point is whether county officials — who would be taking on more responsibility but also having more control over programs and dollars — see a way that this helps not hurts them.

The other huge question: money. How can local officials be sure that the state doesn’t just hand over programs without the cash? Realignment efforts have succeeded before (the biggest was during another fiscal crisis — 1991)… but there are a lot of devils in the details.

More from John Myers about realignment and yesterday’s legislative hearing on the subject on The California Report and on his Capital Notes blog.

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Category: Government, State Budget

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