By Rep. Darrio Melton
Last week, the legislature voted to issue a bond for $800 million to build new, super-max style prisons in Alabama. When it’s all said and done, this prison plan will cost our children and grandchildren nearly $1.5 billion–and when, or if, it finally gets paid back, these prisons will be 100 years old and in need of another $1.5 billion upgrade.
Republicans try to paint themselves as fiscally conservative, but this prison plan is anything but fiscally conservative. It’s an irresponsible decision and evidence of poor leadership at all levels of our state’s government.
When we talk about “bond initiatives,” what we’re really talking about is putting a problem on our credit card. Rather than make the tough decisions to raise extra revenue and save up the money in advance of a project, we’re just going to postpone dealing with the financing.
Think of it like buying a car. When you prepare to buy a car, the best case scenario is that you’ve saved up enough money to pay cash and own the car outright. Sometimes that’s not always completely manageable, and that’s okay. What’s not okay, though, is asking the bank to loan you $50,000 for a new Mercedes without any game plan for how you anticipate being able to make payments on the loan, or whether or not the new Mercedes is actually the best investment. Before you take out such a big loan, you need to make sure that your purchase is the best use of your money and that you’re going to be able to make the payments each month. This is simple math that all families understand.
Yet our Governor and Legislature have approved an $800 million loan with no game plan for how they’ll pay it back or any studies to determine whether it’s actually a smart investment. Not only are we on the hook for this money, but our kids and our grandkids are, too.
If we’re going to use bonds to raise revenue for big projects, we should look at the places it can have the most impact like infrastructure and education.
If we’re going to put our kids on the hook to repay $1.5 billion, let’s at least leave them with a project they can be proud of–safe roads and bridges, public transportation, broadband access in every school, quality learning environments.
Through this plan, the Governor has sent a strong message: we expect prisons to be the future of Alabama. He’s given up on fixing mental health programs, creating expansive educational opportunities, rebuilding our communities and rehabilitating our people.
What an embarrassment.
Alabama can and will do more–but we must demand better. We must demand a brighter future for our children, not one saddled with debt and locked away in a state of the art super-max prison.
Rep. Darrio Melton is a Democrat from Selma. He was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010 and currently serves as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.