Saturday, September 3, 2011

budgets and priorities, California edition

Government budgets are mostly developed with tunnel vision: each agency gets more money or less as the chief executive and the legislature react to how well the agency has been doing and what else it might need to do. Rarely are tradeoffs made with other agencies, except for symbolic or political purposes (e.g., "there are more people in military bands than in the U.S. Foreign Service.")

Yet in fact, budgets reflect governmental priorities, whether or not they are consciously chosen. The United States Government does spend 19 times more on the Pentagon than on international affairs programs including diplomacy and foreign aid. Every now and then, somebody points out a comparison that grabs attention and maybe even shocks us a little. That's how I felt today reading that, for several recent years, California has been spending more on its prisons than on its universities.  As an educator today who is the son of a policeman, I see the value of both public universities and correctional facilities. But aren't things out of balance, at least in California?

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