California lawmakers say a request to spend $7 billion to improve medical and mental health care for prison inmates could mean deeper budget cuts to other state programs.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made the spending proposal last week
as the state seeks to address a federal court mandate to provide better health services to its prisoners.
The size of the expenditure caught many lawmakers by surprise at a time when California is struggling with a multibillion dollar budget deficit.
State senators sitting on a budget subcommittee said Monday they want to consider ways to lower the cost of building long-term care units. That could include proposals to release thousands of inmates early.
Lawmakers say the alternative is to make even deeper cuts in other state programs.
Schwarzenegger proposed $6 billion to build additional medical units and $1 billion to retrofit existing infirmaries.
That money is in addition to the $7.4 billion the Legislature approved last year to add 53,000 prison and county jail beds in a move designed to address chronic overcrowding.