SACRAMENTO -- Laying out his tax plan in the starkest terms possible, Gov. Jerry Brown said Wednesday that the public's safety is at stake if Republicans don't allow voters to decide whether they want to extend taxes.
At a Capitol news conference, Brown turned up the heat on Republicans, surrounding himself with law enforcement leaders -- traditional allies of the GOP -- to urge passage of tax extensions so that he can enact a far-reaching realignment law he recently signed that would shift crime prevention responsibilities from the state to local agencies.
"It is not safe for the public when seven out of 10 individuals commit crimes after being (incarcerated in state prisons) at $50,000 a year for two, five, 10 or 20 years," Brown said. "In order to carry out realignment, in order to protect the public, we do need taxes that are expiring this July."
The realignment law would be paid for by a shift of revenues from the state to localities. Brown wants constitutional protection for the funding by dedicating sales taxes and the vehicle license fees to law enforcement functions, which voters would need to approve alongside the tax extensions.
"Realignment requires not some will o' the wisp temporary, couple-of-years deal," Brown said. "This is a permanent response to a long-festering problem. For that, we need a vote of Californians to lock this into the constitution."
Republicans, who oppose the realignment plan, say it will lead to more crime because county jails will be unable to handle the proposed transfer of state inmates to local agencies. Only nonviolent offenders whose terms are less than 90 days would be released under Brown's plan.
"We're going to have 28,000 more inmates and parolees in our communities next year, unrehabilitated and largely unsupervised, continuing their criminality," said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Redding, the vice chairman of the budget committee. "There are other ways we must balance the budget without putting our families at personal risk and by aggrieving victims."
But law enforcement leaders said the loss of revenues from sales tax and vehicle license fee hikes, due to expire July 1, will result in wholesale cutbacks on crime prevention programs.
Probation departments across the state would be gutted, said Linda Penner, president of the Chief Probation Officers of California.
"What you will see is juvenile crime will be on the rise because we will be inappropriately funded to be able to take care of the needs of our local communities," she said.
Methamphetamine task forces or sex offender task forces could be eliminated without the funding, said Dave Maggard, the president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
"The things we're doing successfully could end quickly without the funds," Maggard said. "There's a lot at stake right now."
At a cost of a half cent hike in sales taxes, said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, "you're talking about eight cups of coffee a year, a reasonable amount of money for a tremendous amount of public safety.
Brown showed frustration over his inability to persuade Republicans, saying that perhaps they'll be convinced after a U.S. Supreme Court decision on prison overcrowding, expected in mid-June, would result in the release of 45,000 inmates.
"The only question is are we going to handle it properly with a plan or are we just going to react without the money, without the realignment in a way that will be ultimately self-defeating," he said.
Brown said his main goal remains to give voters the chance to decide the issue -- whether by initiative or by convincing four Republicans to allow a special election. But he doubted the Legislature could muster the two-thirds vote required for a straight tax increase without a public vote, a track that Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, said earlier this week he was pursuing.
"I hope the people who know how to get the votes will get them because I've been looking, I've virtually been looking almost every day, either by cell phone or by personal contact," Brown said. "And I haven't found them yet.
"When we have such a matter of profound importance and given the utter distrust for government at all levels, this decision properly rests with the people," Brown added. "People can say they got two votes or four votes in their back pocket. I don't believe it. The only votes we're going to get are votes to put this on the ballot and we haven't gotten them yet."