Tony Thurmond Hits The Wrong Target

Still not walking his talk.

State Assembly Member Tony Thurmond has proposed legislation imposing a tax on private prisons in California to help fund early education. Early education is great but levying a tax on private prisons would generate next to no money for it. That’s because only 1.5% — less than $200 million — of California’s $12 billion of prison spending goes to private prison facility owners or operators.

Thurmond chose to exempt $8 billion of revenues earned by a much larger operator of state prisons — public employees. Look in the middle of this chart:

Governor’s 2018–19 Budget, Appendix 8

There you will see $5.2 billion in salary for the 57,000 employees of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Next, add benefits:

Governor’s 2018–19 Budget, page 116

Benefits for those 57,000 employees cost another ~$2.8 billion. That makes for a total of $8 billion, which is 40x more than CA pays private prison corporations. In fact, it’s 4x the total revenues of the country’s largest private prison corporation.

Any way you look at it, California’s public-employee-operated prison operation is huge. Yet in 2015 Mr. Thurmond voted to boost salaries for those employees — their third raise in four years. As explained here, that increase took an additional $600 million per year from social services, parks, courts, the University of California and California State University.

Don’t blame public employees or their unions. They are business people who are perfectly within their rights in seeking to boost their earnings. They are no different than pharmaceutical companies, defense contractors, private prison corporations and others who seek to maximize revenues from governments.

Blame legislators like Thurmond who don’t walk their talk. In his press release about his proposal Thurmond writes that “every child deserves an opportunity at a high-quality education” yet as a member of the State Assembly he has stood in the way of K-12 education reforms and voted to boost spending on prisons at the expense of UC and CSU. His walk doesn’t match his talk.

Govern For California supports legislators who walk their talk.

Written by

Lecturer at Stanford University and president of Govern For California

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