Yesterday, we discussed how there's $2.5 billion in the state budget for $4 billion worth of priorities, at least once you factor in the sacred and all-consuming property tax cuts. Today, Lt. Gov. Davis Dewhurst shows that he wants that money spent on the wrong things.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday that Texas needs to build prisons to hold 5,000 new beds, a view at odds with a major report key lawmakers will release next week that will stress treatment programs and prison alternatives.
"We respect the lieutenant governor, but we respectfully disagree with him on this one if he's talking about building maximum-security facilities," said Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee.
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, said Texas could ease crowded prisons and save money by increasing treatment options and returning fewer parolees to prison for minor infractions.
Even if some of Whitmire's suggestions for treating substance abusers are adopted, Dewhurst argues that the state still needs more prison space for a growing population.
"We haven't built any new prison beds in Texas for a number of years, and our population is exploding," Dewhurst said.
"I don't -- and the people of Texas don't -- want to have dangerous people on our streets, and that's what we're going to prevent. I've been looking at a number of 4,000 to 5,000" over the next four years, he said.
That projection is in line with the budget request by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which wants to add three prisons to hold 5,000 prisoners. That would cost $440 million just for construction, a state expense opposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which advocates limited government.
"We've suggested a number of reforms in terms of probation, parole and sentencing. By adopting those, we would certainly not need more beds," said Marc Levin, director of the foundation's Center for Effective Justice.
I'm going to keep harping on this because there's one priority competing for those dollars that already has sufficient funds allocated for it, if only our mulish state leaders would let them be spent. I am of course talking about CHIP.
"Back in 2003, you heard that we had a $10 billion deficit and the state of Texas couldn't afford to pay for things like health insurance," said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. "Now, here we are four years later with a $14.1 billion surplus. There is no excuse."
BOR has more on yesterday's CHIP press conference, including some embedded video. Check it out.Posted by Charles Kuffner on January 25, 2007 to Budget ballyhoo