Thursday, April 12, 2007

CPPP tells a tale of two prison budgets

The Center for Public Policy Priorities has published a side by side analysis (pdf) of the Texas House and Senate budgets, and I thought I'd point out what's going on with the criminal justice budgets.

For prisons, treatment and diversion programs, the nonprofit reports, the House would spend "$4.5 billion [in] All Funds. Rehabilitation/diversion proposal (TDCJ Rider 83) includes $154 million in General Revenue increases for substance abuse and mental health treatment, probation, parole, and prison chaplains."

The Senate would spend "$4.6 billion [in] All Funds. TDCJ Rider 85: $201 million for rehabilitation/diversion. Also: issue remaining Proposition 8 bonds ($283 million), of which $233 million would be used to build three 1,330-bed prisons.

So two things stand out to me - one, by CPPP's analysis the Senate would actually spend $47 million more on rehab programs than the House. Second, as I've reported previously, the Senate would build three new prisons. Once constructed these units would cost more than $100 million annually for operations and debt service, but those costs aren't included in this biennium.

Give me my druthers and I'd take the Senate's recommendation on rehab funds and the House recommendation on new prison building. But then, that's why God created conference committees.

Another interesting difference in the two budgets arises in the area of Gov. Perry's border security funding. The House would give the program a whopping $100 million from the General Revenue fund (GR), while the Senate budgeted just $54 million for the program, only $10 million of which comes from GR.

I don't think they should spend any new money on the Governor's current failed program - a different border security strategy entirely is required. Gov. Perry's various operations failed to reduce crime, didn't coordinate with established Texas drug enforcement, and according to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee there "was no measure for success or failure built into the program, and an alarming lack of stipulations for use of the money."

On both corrections and border spending, all the major questions will be resolved in conference committee. These two budgets really just set the terms of debate as starting points for those decisionmakers.

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