In his final State of the State address, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said California must shift its funding priorities from prisons to universities, and The Times couldn't agree more. A world-class, affordable system of higher education was part of what turned a state with remarkable potential in the 1940s into the global capital of scientific, cultural and economic achievement over the last half a century. Any society that spends more on incarcerating its people than providing them university educations won't long remain in its ascendancy. The governor has his priorities in order.
But Schwarzenegger seems to forget how we got to this point, where the level of medical care in our overcrowded prisons has been ruled not only unconscionable but unconstitutional, and where University of California and Cal State students must defer their college plans because of skyrocketing tuition.
California voted itself into this mess. Year after year, special interests that wanted to guarantee themselves perpetual funding sponsored constitutional amendments that tied up significant portions of the annual budget. All of them sounded good at the time -- locked-in spending for K-12 education, transportation, public safety, after-school programs, mental health -- and voters adopted them. Meanwhile, we toughened criminal sentences but didn't fund more prisons. On Friday, Schwarzenegger will release a spending plan that will be based not on his priorities, or the Legislature's, or even those of voters today, but rather on a patchwork of what budget-grabbers took to the ballot in 1988, 2002, 2006 and many other election years besides.