SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – This week, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted to support (4-0, Wasserman absent) the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement (SAFE) for California Act and a ballot initiative proposed by Governor Jerry Brown to fund education and guarantee local public safety funding.
SAFE would repeal the state’s current death penalty statute and replace it with a life term without the possibility of parole, generally require murder offenders to work while in prison, and provide funding for new local law enforcement programs on a limited-term basis.
Counties incur higher costs for capital murder trials than they do for murder trials in which the death penalty is not being sought. The state also incurs extraordinary expenses related to death penalty appeals. If passed, the SAFE Act would reduce counties’ costs and provide significantly higher savings for the state.
Under the measure, the imposition of death as the penalty for any crime punished by the state would be eliminated. The measure also specifies that offenders currently under a sentence of death would not be executed and would instead serve a prison term of life without the possibility of parole. Additionally, the SAFE measure provides that the Supreme Court may transfer all death penalty appeals and habeas petitions pending before it to any district of the Courts of Appeal or Superior Court.
The measure also establishes a new special fund, the SAFE California Fund, to support grants to police departments, sheriff’s departments, and district attorney offices. The grants would be for the purpose of increasing the rate at which homicide and rape cases are solved. The measure sets forth the transfer of $100 million from the state General Fund to the SAFE California Fund in the following manner: $10 million in FY 2012-13 and $30 million each year in FY 2013-14, FY 2014-15, and FY 2015-16.
If voters approve the SAFE for California Act, the state would become the 17th state to abolish the death penalty.
Governor’s Tax Measure
The ballot initiative, sponsored by Governor Jerry Brown and known as “The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act,” would increase personal income taxes as well as the sales and use tax, directing new revenues to K-14 education and the General Fund. It also eliminates the state’s obligation to reimburse local governments for the requirements of the Brown Act.
Of greatest importance to counties, it would guarantee funding for the public safety, mental health, substance abuse treatment, and social services programs realigned from the state to counties in 2011. This is a critical measure for counties, as it contains constitutional protections for realignment, along with new revenues to bolster the entire state budget.
As part of the 2011-12 state budget, the Legislature enacted a major shift—or “realignment”—of state program responsibilities and revenues to local governments. The realignment legislation shifted responsibility from the state to local governments, primarily counties, for several programs including court security, adult offenders and parolees, public safety grants, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, child welfare programs, and adult protective services. Implementation of this transfer began in 2011. To fund the realignment of these programs, the 2011-12 state budget provided a total of $6.3 billion in revenues by dedicating 1.0625% of the state sales and use tax (SUT) and certain vehicle license fees (VLF) to the realignment programs as well as a one-time shift of funds from the Mental Health Services Fund.
The measure amends the Constitution to permanently dedicate revenues to local governments to pay for the programs that were realigned in 2011, limits the State’s ability to impose additional requirements after 2012, and limits local governments’ ability to seek additional state reimbursements.
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