Yesterday after his State of the State speech, Governor Rick Perry's office released the governor's own suggested budget (pdf), recommending the Lege adopt the House's more aggressive approach to prison-agency cuts. He also recommended selling the land around the Central Unit in Sugar Land, estimating it would bring in $30 million. That may be a little high; a 2006 appraisal estimated the market value of the land at $10.2 million, and I doubt it's triple that now given the intervening recession. But even with such small optimisms, Perry is suggesting a 12.7% cut to state corrections spending, a task which can only be reasonably accomplished by scaling back the prison population and closing prisons. (After all, the entire line item for probation and diversion programs combined doesn't approach $786 million.)
Remarkably, Perry's budget also favors canceling the state's contract with UTMB-Galveston to provide prison healthcare, suggesting (somewhat implausibly) either TDCJ or a private sector company could do the job for less:
Due to the recent audit report findings by the State Auditor’s Office, and the subsequent letter sent by the University of Texas Medical Branch requesting to end the contract for Correctional Managed Care, the Governor’s budget recommends canceling necessary contracts early to explore private sector delivery options, or instructing the state-supported institution to provide correctional care according to the constitutional minimum level, saving the state $30 million.Except for his line-item veto at the endgame, the Governor has little power to influence the budget beyond releasing his own in sort of a "bully pulpit" strategy. So his decision to use that pulpit to support radical cuts at TDCJ is perhaps telling. Perry's budget frees up conservative Republicans in the Lege to talk openly about prison closures. It also signals that he won't oppose (and indeed has endorsed) extremely large cuts at TDCJ - much larger than anyone might have thought possible just a short time ago.
Folks at TDCJ and in the criminal justice-related committees at the Lege must now begin to get serious about what it means to cut $600-$800 million from TDCJ's budget, including enacting policy changes to reduce Texas' bloated inmate population: It's nearly, but not quite, time that the Texas Legislature must begin believing impossible things.
See related, recent Grits posts:
- 'Six Impossible Things': Do you blieve in a conservative, rational and smaller corrections budget?
- TDCJ belatedly contemplates real-world implications of massive budget cuts
- Texas corrections budget at second glance
- Corrections budget cuts concentrated in community supervision, set TDCJ up to fail
- Justice solutions offered at TPPF orientation
- Texas budget shortfall dwarfs corrections budgets
- As 2011 budget crisis looms, should most expensive prison units be closed?