For most Californians, the word “realignment” probably brings to mind something a mechanic does to keep their cars from pulling to one side or the other. In fact, it refers to a major policy shift the Legislature initiated last year: the transfer of several public safety, health, and human services programs – along with a dedicated source of funding – from the state to the counties beginning in 2011-12, as we explain in our new report. The public safety side of realignment has gotten the most media attention, and for good reason. Counties’ new responsibilities for managing, supervising, and rehabilitating “low-level” offenders and parolees will transform the state’s criminal justice system over the next several years as well as bring down state spending on prisons. Nonetheless, a little-known fact about realignment is that nearly two-thirds of the dollars – $3.9 billion out of $5.9 billion in 2012-13 – support health and human services programs, including Child Welfare Services, Foster Care, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services.
While realignment is intended to be permanent, the current framework was adopted with the understanding that the Legislature and voters would need to finalize the details this year. That’s why state lawmakers and Governor Brown are now working on a long-term framework that is likely to be included in the final 2012-13 budget agreement. It’s also why the Governor has proposed a ballot measure for November 2012 that would place key realignment provisions in the state Constitution in order to ensure that counties will receive ongoing funding as well as to provide counties and the state with protections against certain unanticipated costs. These protections, along with the legislation currently under consideration, are central to building a long-term framework for realignment in 2012 and beyond.
– Scott Graves