The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add some important context to lawmakers’ discussions as the spending bills are considered on the House and Senate floors. As we look at the budget, we consider the following issues:
Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Have budget-writers reviewed existing outlays to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate adding new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?
Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are truly objectionable or legitimate and worthy of support.
Bill description: HR010 makes a transfer of $112.4 million from the Permanent Building Fund to the Idaho Department of Corrections so it may build a new women’s prison in Kuna, ID.
Prisoners who can’t be accommodated in state prisons due to capacity limits are housed in county jails and out-of-state prisons. These costs include housing the prisoners and paying for their medical care. Appropriations for spending in county and out-of-state facilities have been increasing from about $13 million in FY18 to a requested $27 million for FY23. The FY23 request represents a decrease from FY21 and FY22.
There are a number of reasons that this appropriation is not the best use of building funds.
The budget for county and out-of-state placement can be used for male and female prisoners, so the appropriation wouldn’t go to zero with the addition of a women’s facility.
Medical costs for all prisoners have been skyrocketing, having increased by more than 40% from FY18 to the FY23 request. These costs will not decrease because these services are provided under contract with the state covering the costs for all prisoners, whether in a state facility or not.
The $112.4 million is the cost to build the facility, not operate it. That will be an ongoing cost with a fixed component. County and out-of-state placement is a variable cost. One of the reasons given for a new prison is that out-of-state placement is harder on the families of prisoners. But what is a bigger priority: the prisoners or the taxpayers? Don’t want to go out of state — don’t do the crime.
This is the most expensive line item in a series of requests from the Department of Corrections, which includes money for the following: medical annex improvements, a new reentry center, expanding wastewater treatment capacity at the Southwest Idaho complex, general COVID costs, and prisoner transport. Some of the other items should be the priority over this.
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