It didn't take the politicians long to mess up a good idea with their typical money grab. But this time it could affect public safety, with prison realignment funds being taken from San Joaquin Valley counties and given to counties with more political clout.
Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment program makes sense if it's properly administered. Under it, individuals convicted of low-level felony offenses are sentenced to county jails instead of going to prison, which is more expensive.
Our concern all along has been whether the Legislature and the governor would do it right and fully fund the realignment program, or play political games with the money. They just can't help themselves.
It has become clear that the Valley is again being shortchanged while the realignment funding committee gives extra money to political pals in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.
The Fresno Bee reported Sunday that in the fiscal year about to start, the 12 counties between Kern and San Joaquin are slated for a smaller percentage of public-safety money than they are currently getting. At the same time, seven of nine Bay Area counties are getting larger shares.
Overall, the pie is larger; the governor's budget calls for realignment allocation to be 2.5 times larger than it was during the first nine months. The Valley counties' concern is that their pieces of the pie are shrinking as a percentage of the total.
Stanislaus County is expected to get $12.2 million for community corrections next year, up from the $6 million for the nine months of this year. But that represents a 0.3 percent smaller share of the total. The money goes for jail operations, probation officers and other expenses related to shifting state parolees and prisoners to the county.
Madera and Merced are also getting smaller shares next year of the total. Madera will get $3.4 million, and Merced $5.2 million.
The San Joaquin Valley only had one representative on the nine-member allocation committee, Kings County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes. Alameda County and Santa Cruz counties both had representatives on the funding team -- and those counties got substantially more money in the new round of funding.
Stanislaus County's new Chief Executive Officer Monica Nino shares the frustration of other Valley leaders. She hopes to gain more influence by volunteering to serve on a future committee reviewing funding allocations, but that wouldn't provide any immediate relief. Fresno County's CEO also volunteered to be on the team making the recommendations.
Leaders of some Bay Area counties argued that they were slighted in the first round of funding because they send, proportionately, fewer people to state prison because they use less costly alternatives to incarceration. But crime rates, property tax sharing and other factors must be figured into the funding, and that hard information should outweigh political clout.
Realignment is a bold experiment to reduce the state prison population, as mandated by a federal court order. We like it in concept, but it will fail if the politicians don't fairly allocate funding.
Editorials are the opinion of the Merced Sun-Star editorial board. Members of the editorial board include Publisher Eric Johnston, Managing Editor David W. Hill and Guest Editor Andy Krotik.