Prison Receiver Pushes Governor to Free Up Funding for Prison Hospitals

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Last month, Republican lawmakers in Sacramento defeated a plan to borrow $7 billion to build new prison hospitals in California. Now, the federal receiver appointed to fix up prison medical care has appealed to Governor Schwarzenegger for help. KPCC's Julie Small says he wants the Governor to use special emergency powers to free up the $7 billion he needs.

Julie Small: The federal judge who appointed Clark Kelso to cure the medical ills of California prisons gave him special powers to do it. As the federal receiver, he can order the state to hand over $7 billion to build hospitals for inmates.

But Kelso's trying a more politically palatable tack. He's called on Arnold Schwarzenegger to use his emergency authority as governor to allocate the money. Aaron McLear with the governor's office says attorneys for California will meet with Kelso this week.

Aaron McLear: As you know, he has the ability to go to the judge and say, "Judge, they're not working with us. So, you know, I need to raid the general fund." He has the ability to do that. We can't risk that.

Small: Governor Schwarzenegger recently used emergency authority to move inmates to out-of-state prisons. But spokesman Aaron McLear says, in this case, the governor first wants the Legislature to try again to OK 7 billion in bonds for prison medical care.

Given the state's $15 billion deficit, McLear says it's better to borrow the money than to take it from the general fund. Republicans have said they'll agree to that only if other plans to reform the prisons are integrated or modified to their liking. McLear says the governor's not going there.

McLear: The governor's interested in solving problems, not playing games. And I don't think that we're in a position with our prison system or with our budget where we can afford to play games or play politics with this problem.

Small: If lawmakers fail to provide the money Kelso wants, he'll likely take the money from the state's general fund. If that happens, California's budget deficit will get a lot bigger a lot quicker.