A group of fiscally conservative Republican House members in Texas are pushing to keep open two prisons the state might not need, and they want to buy another one for which there are no convicts, reported the Austin American-Statesman.
Leading the charge against the plan are Democratic legislators who are loudly complaining about pork-barrel spending.
At issue is whether the state, with 12,000 empty prison beds and a prisoner population that’s continuing to decline, should close lockups in Mineral Wells and Dallas to save money. And, separately, should the state buy an 1,100-bed lockup it encouraged Jones County to build before the prison population began declining?
Supporters of those moves cite extenuating circumstances: jobs, economic development, contingency planning, state contractual obligations and not wishing to micromanage a state agency.
Critics say none of that trumps the bottom line for taxpayers.
“This is the ultimate earmark, no different than what people rebelled about with Washington,” Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee told The Statesman. "It makes no sense.”
House and Senate budget negotiators will have to wrestle with the prison closures, recommended by the Senate but not by the House. And on Friday, the House is scheduled to vote on a supplemental budget bill that would spend $19.5 million to buy the Jones County lockup located north of Abilene.
State Rep. Susan King, an Abilene Republican who represents Jones County, has pushed for the purchase. “This was an agreement the state made, and it was broken,” she told The Statesman. “It’s unprecedented. … Now we’re looking at a county that has made no payments on this building; they’re in financial distress over it.”
To read more: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/state-regional-govt-politics/legislators-spar-over-downsizing-prisons/nXXDx/