Capitol Alert

Role reversal: Sen. Mark Leno scolds Jerry Brown on spending

In budget-related matters at the Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown is so often the scold that legislative Democrats may relish a momentary role reversal.

In a letter last week, state Sen. Mark Leno, chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee, chastised the administration for a request by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to transfer $261 million among various programs to cover overtime, workers’ compensation and other costs that went over budget last fiscal year.

Leno, D-San Francisco, said “the areas of overspending highlight some key budgetary issues that have been persistent problems for the department,” noting CDCR also exceeded its workers’ compensation budget the year before.

“The CDCR has put the Legislature in an impossible position by expending state funds beyond its budget authority, then requesting from the Legislature a transfer of funds from other program areas after the fact to pay for these substantial additional costs,” Leno wrote.

The letter was in response to an August notice of the corrections department’s request from Brown’s Department of Finance. The majority of the overage, $200 million, was attributed to vacancies in positions, which required additional overtime.

The administration said it concurred with the necessity of the intra-department program transfers to cover shortfalls and that it planned to approve the request.

Leno said there “appears to be no other practical option,” but he wasn’t happy about it. Friction between lawmakers and CDCR over budgeting has arisen in previous years, but Leno stepped up the rhetoric.

He wrote that “the administration in the future should follow the law in notifying the Legislature in a timely fashion when requesting expenditure authority under the annual budget act.”

If it isn’t able to, Leno said, “I intend to work with the Legislature to place additional constraints on the department’s budget.”

For its part, the Brown administration noted the law allows intra-department transfers once lawmakers are notified.