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Bentley’s Plan to Borrow $800 million for Prisons

By Brandon Moseley

Alabama Political Reporter

On Monday, December 19, 2016 Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) told the ‘Montgomery Advertiser’s Bryan Lyman that he was considering having a special session within the 2017 regular session to force the legislature to consider his controversial plan to build new prisons on credit.

Gov. Bentley told Lyman, “That will be the top of the agenda,”

On Tuesday, December 20 the Governor’s office appeared to confirm that reporting when it twittered a link to the story with the text: “ICYMI: “Number One Agenda item for 2017.”

Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler (R) opposes the plan to burden the general fund with more debt and has released his own plan. On Tuesday, December 20 Zeigler said in a statement, “Gov. Bentley is trying to use prisoners with mental health issues as an excuse to borrow $800 million and give no-bid contracts for four mega-prisons at sites he alone will select. Bentley’s plan to put the state in debt for 30 years is NOT the only way to solve the prison problems. I presented Plan Z, a 12-part common sense plan without the $800 million cost. These are the only two competing plans.”

In October, The Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Northern, Middle and Southern Districts of Alabama announced in a joint statement that they are conducting a human/civil rights investigation into the Alabama prison system.

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In January Gov. Bentley introduced his plan to build four mega prisons each holding about 4,000 inmates. Bentley’s plan included one massive unbid contract for thee four prisons: one women’s and three mens.

The controversial plan passed the Senate in April; but got bogged down in the Alabama House of Representatives. State Senator Paul Sanford (R from Huntsville) called the plan: “insane and irresponsible.”

Even though the state has been struggling with the state general fund budget (SGF) for years; the Bentley plan, which would cost $30 million a year for the next 30 years, did not include any new revenue for the SGF to pay for the plan. Bentley however claimed that the closing of older prisons as well as the incorporation of new technology would result in cost savings through efficiency and that would be sufficient to service the massive new debt. The prisons are currently running at 175 percent of capacity.

The 2017 Regular Legislative session begins on February 7. A special session within the regular session would oblige the legislature to deal with the Governor’s plan before getting back to work on the budgets and other business.

Since his election as Auditor in 2014, Zeigler has been very outspoken critic of Gov. Bentley. Bentley has drawn national press attention for his alleged affair with former top political advisor Mrs. Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Efforts to impeach the embattled Governor were suspended on the request of Attorney General Luther Strange (R) who is conducting his own investigation.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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