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On Prisons, Brown Ditches Frugality Message

Health care and education spending has been cut, but "you can't run a prison on hot air," says guv

For months, Gov. Jerry Brown has been telling Californians deep budget cuts are necessary to eliminate the state's $25.4 billion deficit.

Spending for health care, the environment and education has already been cut. And more cuts are on the way.

But the governor momentarily shelved his doom-and-gloom message Monday when he addressed a rally at the capitol organized by the state's powerful prison guards' union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, and Crime Victims United, a victims' rights group.

"I hope you'll tell some of your legislators that we're going to need some money," Brown said.

"You can't run a prison ... on hot air," he said. "You've got to run it with real money."

The remarks come less than a week after Brown's administration negotiated a new contract with prison guards, which the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said "would result in significantly lower savings" than had been budgeted.

Under the terms of the deal, prison guards would be required to take one unpaid day off every month — the equivalent to a 5 percent pay cut — and CCPOA members would be required to make additional contributions to their retirement.

But the state will pay more for the guards' health care, dental and vision coverage, and the most senior guards will get a pay increase in July 2013.

The result is that the state will save $181.3 million less than the legislature anticipated, the LAO said, meaning lawmakers must either "reject some or all" of the labor agreements negotiated by Brown or "authorize or require administrative actions, such as layoffs."

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who chairs the upper house's budget committee, said the $181.3 million savings gap "was a cause for concern" but said he would withhold a final judgement on the pact until hearings on it are held in the state legislature.

Leno said he was heartened by Brown's speech at the CCPOA rally.

Brown's remarks, Leno said, were meant to remind prison guards and their supporters of the dangers of an "all-cuts budget," which may be necessary if voters fail to approve any tax increases or extensions.

Leno said prison guards and crime victims represent one of the only interest groups potentially able to sway "the very few Republicans who may vote for additional revenue."

"Hope springs eternal," Leno said.

The CCPOA, which repeatedly clashed with Arnold Schwarzenegger during his tenure as governor, backed Brown during his succesful campaign against former eBay CEO Meg Whitman last year. 

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