I hope you all had a great Independence Day — I had a wonderful relaxing time with my cousins in the beautiful Southern Utah town of Panguitch, just outside of Bryce Canyon, where as a kid I spent summers learning how to farm and speak good Republican. The latter skill comes in very handy in the Legislature.
We drove home via Vegas and the new Hoover Dam bridge which was colossally disappointing since they walled off any views of the Dam itself from the bridge — I’ll be talking to ADOT about that missed opportunity! On the way we passed through Kingman, where the residents definitely did NOT have a nice holiday weekend thanks to the increasingly frightening private prison industry…
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As you likely heard, the Kingman private prison was the site of massive prison riots on 4th of July weekend, with more than a thousand prisoners shipped out to other prisons in Arizona and Texas because the riot effectively destroyed a portion of the facility.
This was the same “Management and Training Corporation” prison that saw an prisoner beaten to death by other inmates earlier this year. In 2010, three inmates there took advantage of a broken alarm system, walked out a propped-open back door, cut the perimeter fence with wire cutters, and were gone for hours before their disappearance was discovered. Two of them went on to murder a retired couple in New Mexico. This prison corporation acts like profits come before public safety.
And yet, as of Monday morning, Governor Ducey’s Department of Corrections was set to issue on July 22 a $24.2 million RFP seeking to bid out 1,000 new private prison beds, as approved by Ducey and the legislative majority in the same budget that cut education spending at all levels.
Then yesterday’s Arizona Republic op-ed section hit the Governor’s desk, with the lead editorial submitted by Senate Democratic Leadership, including me, calling in the wake of the Kingman riots for the indefinite suspension of any RFPs for new private prisons.
By late afternoon, the Department of Corrections announced that they would be delaying the RFP for 60 days in order to assess the recent incidents at Kingman. Sometimes the pen is mightier than the sword.
The battle is certainly not over — I suspect that the 60-day delay may be a way for the administration to eliminate some bad optics only to continue to push their private-prison agenda later when not so many people are paying attention.
Why would I think this? Let’s look at some of these graphics I sent to you around budget time, showing the Governor’s support for private prisons at the expense of community colleges:
Despite the rhetoric lately, these charts prove Doug Ducey and the legislative majority are all-in on private prisons.
If we had simply inflated our support for community colleges at the same level as 2006, we would be funding their vital core programs of personal betterment, job training, and poverty elimination through education to the tune of $186,878,700 this year. Instead, Governor Ducey signed a budget that zeroed out community colleges in Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties while slashing to $55 million the support for rural community colleges. That’s more than a 70% cut.
If we had increased spending on private prisons at simply the rate of inflation, they would be getting $55 million a year. Instead, Governor Ducey signed a budget that increases spending on these corporate facilities by 230%. That’s a big red middle finger aimed at Arizona students.
You may remember also that the one good prison measure that had momentum this year in the legislature — a Sen. Steve Pierce bill to increase participation in an addiction treatment program that has been proven to cut recidivism in half and reduce the numbers of people in prison in the first place — was quashed by Speaker David Gowan in the House of Representatives.
Let’s not forget that these private prison contracts require us to provide a minimum amount of prisoners to house, one of the least moral contract provisions I have ever seen. Perhaps the industry lobbyists had something to do with the death of the addiction treatment bill because it threatens their supply of prisoners.
So when that RFP comes around again in 60 days, I’ll still be watching and raising my voice. I hope you join me.
Some Farley Report breaking news:
Governor Ducey just keeps making friends in high places — first Superintendent Diane Douglas, and now State Treasurer Jeff DeWit. Moments ago, I got an email from DeWit, trashing (former treasurer) Ducey's education land trust proposal, saying it would in fact reduce the payouts to our schools by $87 billion over the next century and produce a billion-dollar cliff for schools in 2022. "This is not 'new money' for our schools,” says DeWit in his email to legislators, and he adds that former treasurers Martin and Springer also oppose the proposal.
I've been saying this all along. It's time to pay the inflation funding lawsuit settlement and fund our schools adequately through the budget process. Now. Preferably in special session.
Speaking of money for education, it turns out that — including the rainy day fund — we now have more than $700 million in surplus cash laying around, even while President Biggs and Speaker Gowan refuse to pay the court-ordered inflation funding settlement, our schools are struggling to keep good teachers and buy up-to-date textbooks, and the Department of Child Safety has more children in custody of the state than before the “Not Investigated” crisis nearly two years ago.
And yet, Governor Ducey’s chief of staff for policy and budget told the Republic, “It’s hard to say if this is a temporary blip or something we are going to see as we move forward,” and there are no plans for a special session to fund our schools or DCS.
It’s time to hold these folks accountable for their decisions.
If all this made you depressed, remember that the U.S. Supreme Court gave us reasonable people a lot of things to be happy about recently, and things are changing even here in AZ.
Marriage equality is now the law of the land, the voter-approved Independent Redistricting Commission can no longer be threatened (although Biggs and Gowan are still using more taxpayer money to continue the suit against legislative lines, even if they win the current IRC they hate will be the folks redrawing the lines again!), and the tens of thousands of Arizonans who finally have decent affordable healthcare under the Affordable Care act will keep that care.
If you encounter any remaining Obamacare doubters, show them this article from Forbes Magazine, detailing how the healthcare exchanges have kept premiums low while expanding healthcare choice. Progress on all fronts!
Finally, while this Republic article may be pessimistic on our chances of getting a statewide ban on driving while texting anytime soon, I have some new ideas for how to get it done next session. It’s just us and Montana now, folks, without a statewide ban. We can do it. Keep hope alive, and we will save lives!
Thanks for your continuing faith in me as your Senator.
Senator, District 9, Tucson
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