Thursday, May 24, 2007

Rumor mill swirling that new prisons included in budget conference report

The rumor mill is swirling that at least two House budget conferees were steaming to discover that the new Texas budget includes funding in Article IX for three new prisons, though no one has seen the final document to confirm it. Apparently the conference committee never voted on the rider in question, according to one well-placed rumor monger, so the House conferees' fairly rigid stance against new prisons was never put to a test in a formal vote.

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.


Anonymous said...

TDCJ cannot adequately staff the current units. Staffing has been the major critical security issue during the discussions of building new prisons in the 90's to the present date (among those employees operating the units).

Comments in your blog have been "right on" concerning the political mistakes impacting on TDCJ. After serving my TDC/TDCJ career in Correctional Officer positions (including 19 1/2 years as a Warden) I retired from TDCJ because I couldn't put up with the "smoking mirrors" and lack of management/leadership from the administration, TDCJ Board and political decisions.

TDCJ was "an accident waiting to happen" several years ago and has only gotten worse; I am afraid when TDCJ implodes the TYC scandal will seem trivial in comparison. My regret is that I was not able to alter their chosen path of destruction.

Anonymous said...

it is regretful that someone like you left TDCJ, but understandable .
Your comments are right on target and we expect this implosion any day . Where will the Legislators be then ? And who will clean it up ? There is no interest in public safety only the safety of being reelected . Again , I applaud you for your insight and obvious caring .

Anonymous said...

I too am sorry you felt the burn out from your job. That happens to a lot of us who do high stress jobs. I am in the medical field and we also get no support from those who are in charge and make the rules. That is why so many of us are or have left the field of nursing.

I hope and pray one day our legislators and senators wake up and put the interest of TDCJ on top of their list before it totally is out of control. From what I hear, we are almost at that point now.

Enjoy your life from what I read you did what you could do now those who dole out the money have to do their job.