Arizona's new Republican governor Doug Ducey said during his inaugural address "Fair warning: The budget will not meet with general approval among special interests." he said. "I can assure you that a more efficient government is not only necessary, but sensible." But there was one special interest group that must have been pleased when Ducey rolled out his budget proposal: the private prison industry, reported Mother Jones.
Ducey's austere budget plan slashed $384 million in state programs, including $75 million in funding for Arizona's public universities. But it earmarked $5 million for a new, 3,000-bed private prison that even the state's most notorious law enforcement official, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, argues is unnecessary.
While Ducey makes the case to spend money on a new prison, Arizona universities are fighting off deepening budget cuts. The proposed $75 million cut represents 10 percent of the total budget for Arizona's three major public universities, a threshold that school regents said they'd accept. Concern has mounted, however, that more than $90 million could be cut. From 2009 to 2012, Arizona universities saw $400 million in cuts, which the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities called the largest education cuts in the country. Since then, tuition has doubled and enrollment has increased.
Critics of Ducey's prison plan have argued that funding a private prison is not a one-time expense.
The state would be locked in for $100 million in operating costs over three years, and as much as $1.5 billion over the next two decades, according to the Grand Canyon Institute, an Arizona think tank. Beyond that, depending on contract specifics, Arizona is required to keep private facilities at 90 to 100 percent occupancy—a burden that several experts believe could thwart Arizona's emerging criminal-justice-reform movement, which is targeting harsh sentencing laws, among other things, that add to the state's high incarceration rate.
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