I wonder if it's a point of order on the bill that such a big item was never agreed to by one chamber's conferees? More on this when I get more.
The Senate included only $35 million in the next budget for prisons, but that relatively small amount (in the scheme of TDCJ's budget) commits Texas taxpayers to annual payments of $106 million or more for the next twenty years to cover debt payments and prison operating costs. This despite the fact that the best available actuarial estimates say Texas won't need new prisons if the state make other proposed policy changes and fully funds diversion programs.
What's more, there are pragmatic barriers to prison building the Senate simply ignored: Primarily that Texas can't hire enough guards to staff the prisons we've got and isn't likely to succeed in staffing new ones.
If it's true new prisons made it into the conference report, then it's very late in the game to stop their approval, but perhaps not too late. Says one source:
Although the budget will not be available until some time later tonight or tomorrow, we have heard that the rider is in Article IX, and that it appropriates funds contingent upon passage of SJR 65 (which approves $1 billion for general revenue bonds to be used for various items, including prison construction) and S.B. 2033 (which allows the spending of those funds).SB 2033 has already passed both chambers without amendment, so it's on its way soon to the Governor. But SJR 65, which authorizes issuing a billion dollars in new debt for a variety of pork barrel projects, was amended in both the House and the Senate. To me, if it's true that new prison building was covertly added to budget through a rider without the knowledge of all the House conferrees, I'd like to see them just shoot down SJR 65 to stop the prison builders. That would kill other members' projects, too, so it would be a contentious vote, to say the least.
The other option is for the House members to reject the budget tomorrow, send it back to the conference committee, strip out the offending Rider, and HB 1 could still be passed before Monday's deadline. I hope that's exactly what they do. If Texas decides to build new prisons, fine, that's the Legislature's call. But if they're built just because members never got the opportunity to actually decide the question, that calls into question the legitimacy of the whole process.