Friday, January 12, 2007

Fantastic Fiscal Flip Flop bad news for prison builders

Those who want Texas to dramatically expand its prison system suffered another setback this week with the Legislative Budget Board's release of the new budget cap.

In one afternoon Texas went from nearly $15 billion in the black to $4 billion in the red - heretofore let's call it the Fantastic $19 Billion Fiscal Flip Flop. (4-F, for short.)

Texas prisons are already overflowing. Building three new prisons to incarcerate everyone anticipated under current sentencing trends would cost around $440 million, plus another $711 million in interest, reported the Sunset Advisory Commission (report, p. 13-14). Oh yeah, and don't forget to tack on $72 million per year extra in operating costs.

What's more, even if Texas builds three prisons, and somehow found guards to staff them, they'd be completely full by the end of the decade and we'd be right back where we started - incarcerating a greater percentage of our population than anyone else on the planet.

By contrast, Chairmans Jerry Madden and John Whitmire say they've figured out how to resolve the short-term incarceration crisis by strengthening community supervision and expanding rehab programs for low-level offenders for around $150 million next biennium - a big chunk of change, but a LOT cheaper than new prison building. Even more changes are needed to fix the problem for the long haul.

Texas legislators made a lot of promises last year based on the idea of this fat surplus - to parents, to teachers, to roadbuilding, to healthcare, to border security, to local governments struggling wth unfunded mandates. And of course, for their much-ballyhooed tax cuts. How could they possibly do all that and build more prisons after this Fantastic Fiscal Flip Flop?

You never can tell, but the LBB's announcement definitely seems to strengthen Madden and Whitmire's hand.

1 comment:

Quismada said...

We need to get behind Whitmire and Madden on this one. It is high time Texas stopped building "prison towns" to keep the local yokels in employment. It is also high time this state started looking closely at outside rehabilitative services to stop the overcrowding of our prisons. Perhaps we could even find some funds to provide adequate medical care to the ones already incarcerated.