In recent days, the prison employee perks have been targeted by legislative leaders, who say that, with the state facing the largest revenue shortfall in more than two decades, costly employee entitlements need to go.If this is merely symbolism, so be it. There will be a lot of symbolic cuts in the budget this year and if employee housing is one of them, it will be regrettable, if far from tragic. But nobody should be fooled for a moment that fiddling around with such small amounts is really tantamount to budget cutting at TDCJ on remotely the scale that's been requested of them. Both the draft House budget and the Governor recommended cutting $786.4 million from TDCJ's requested biennial budget; in the Senate, they recommended slashing $583.6 million. To cut that much, the Legislature must begin to believe impossible things.
"We should be cutting perks, not people," said state Rep. Jerry Madden , R-Richardson, who heads the House Corrections Committee. "Before one state employee is laid off, we need to look at cutting a lot of these perks — including the housing."
Other legislative leaders and correctional officers union officials agree.
"When they're asking correctional officers to take a pay cut, and cutting programs and other areas, it's time for the upper management to give it up," Brian Olsen, executive director of a correctional employees union, said of the subsidized housing.
Eliminating employee housing entirely would save the prison system only a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars agency leaders need to cut. But such perks may be increasingly hard to defend as proposed budget cuts throughout state government lead to layoffs of tens of thousands of public school teachers and possibly the closing of nursing homes across the state.
Especially after the 2003 round of budget scrubbing, there just aren't enough "perks" left at TDCJ to get anywhere near the amounts required. To get into the mid-to-high nine figures in biennial cuts at TDCJ requires closing more prisons and eliminating staff. The longer the Legislature pretends otherwise, the less likely they are to come up with a viable solution and the more likely they are, by default, to acquiesce in TDCJ's wrong-headed cuts focused on treatment, diversion and community supervision.