California Lawmakers Question Timing, Cost of Prison Health Care Plan
On Monday, members of a Senate budget subcommittee questioned the $7 billion price tag for overhauling the state's prison health care system and asked if the plan could be scaled back to avoid a deeper state budget deficit and cuts to other state programs, the Los Angeles Times reports.
J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed prison health care receiver, said he wants lawmakers to authorize borrowing $6.9 billion by June so that he can begin construction on seven new health care facilities and begin upgrading the current facilities by next year. The plan also calls for $100 million from the state general fund (Rothfeld, Los Angeles Times, 4/15).
Even if legislators do not approve the plan, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson could order the new construction without any legislative approval. Henderson created the receiver's office after he found that prison health care did not meet constitutional standards (Furillo, Sacramento Bee, 4/15).
Repaying the proposed bonds would cost the state about $26 billion over 25 years (Thompson, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 4/15).
Nancy Paulus of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office told legislators to study the plan carefully, noting that the plan provided few details, including where the facilities would be located or how much it would cost to run the new buildings.
Paulus said $2.5 billion, or 40% of the amount requested, is allocated to costs not related to construction, such as architecture and potential expense overruns (Los Angeles Times, 4/15).
The cost of the plan breaks down to about $602,000 per new health care bed.
Dan Carson, head of LAO's criminal justice unit, said the cost of the new proposal is significantly higher than LAO's cost estimate for new prison construction under legislation approved last year. That plan estimated a cost of $222,000 per new bed.
Carson noted, however, that the projected cost was less than what the prisons currently pay for smaller-scale mental health units (Sacramento Bee, 4/15).
Several lawmakers also wondered if the plan could be scaled back depending on the state's separate $7.7 billion plan to add 50,000 prison and jail beds or Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) proposal to reduce the number of inmates through early releases and changes in parole policies.
Kelso said he had to base his proposal on the prison system in its current state and urged lawmakers to approve the funding quickly (Los Angeles Times, 4/15). He added that delays could increase construction costs (Sacramento Bee, 4/15).
Capital Public Radio's "KXJZ News" on Tuesday reported on the plan. The segment includes comments from Kelso (Weiss, "KXJZ News," Capital Public Radio, 4/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.