Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said county budget cuts have resulted in 5,000 fewer beds in his jails.
"The reality is we just don't have the jail space for the increasing numbers of state prisoners," he said.
Baca and other county officials were unaware of the state order.
Chief Chuck Jackson, who oversees the Los Angeles County jails, said the increase has nothing to do with budget problems, but with the fact that arrests are up about 10% in Los Angeles County.
"This is not something where the L.A. County Sheriff is trying to dump out prisoners," Jackson said. "We're only moving the inmates who have been convicted. They're sentenced to state prison. They are supposed to go there."
Over the last year, the county has released thousands of low-level offenders to save money. But inmates headed for state prison are felons convicted of more serious crimes, or parole violators.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, are skeptical of the corrections department's reasoning. Romero pointed out the order was drafted around the same time the governor's staff was working on his revised budget proposal.
She questions whether it is part of a ploy to avoid budget cuts: "I am just suspicious of the timing," Romero said.
Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Sue Fox, Dan Morain and Peter Nicholas contributed to this report.