No means yes

It’s no news to anyone in Sacramento that state Republican leaders refused to consider any tax increases this session, even on oil extraction and cigarettes, or to eliminate the corporate-tax giveaways passed in February that will cost the state $2.5 billion or more annually.

Most were perfectly OK, however, doing nothing while the Legislature and governor slashed $16 billion in funding for education, health care, the state’s welfare-to-work program, children’s health insurance, state workers, domestic-violence centers, programs for the elderly, AIDS prevention and treatment, and state parks.

Indeed, the one time they spoke up was when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said a $1.2 billion reduction in prison spending might require releasing prisoners from our drastically overcrowded prisons. His idea was to let some elderly and sick nonviolent prisoners out a few months early and send fewer people to prison for minor parole violations. To hear our lawmakers’ howls of outrage, though, you’d have thought the governor was letting the Manson family loose.

The reason the prisons are so full—170,000 people crammed into space meant for half that many—is because lawmakers want to get tough on crime but don’t want to pay for it. As a result, just last week, a panel of three federal judges ordered the state to reduce its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates in the next two years.

Of course, the state has no money to build prisons—unless it decides to raise taxes. Let’s see: Raise taxes or release prisoners early? We know some Republicans who won’t like the answer.