Archive for March 28th, 2012
While the Alaska Legislature is wildly enthusiastic about creating ridiculously harsh sentences, and a presumptive sentencing system that can put repeat offenders in the slammer into their 80s, the Legislature is notoriously miserly about building prisons to house all those convicts.
By preference, and when forced bycourt order to reduce overcrowding, the Legislature will warehouse its prisoners Outside in private stateside prisons, far from their families, their cultures and Alaska. The Legislature has flirted with private prisons in Alaska from time to time, at least until Bill Weimar went to jail for
bribing making illegal campaign contributions to our elected officials in an effort to advance private prisons in Alaska. That was after seemingly every municipality in Alaska had elected not to do business with Weimar.
So, rather than build a prison, the Legislature set out to find a municipality desperate enough to build a prison and then lease it back to the State. It turned out there weren’t so many municipalities that desperate, but Matanuska-Susitna Borough was. So it was that in 2004, SB 65 was enacted into law as chapter 160 SLA 2004. Then-Governor Frank Murkowski was skeptical about the idea – it was kind of whiffy at the time – so he attached some conditions to the project. Mainly, the problem for the State was that if the State of Alaska incurred any more bond debt, its credit rating might get hammered, driving up interest rates and debt service. So the Legislature’s cutesy solution was to lay the bonds of on Mat-Su. Sort of a Find the Lady con worked at the intergovernmental level.
By the time the prison was built, it was $50 million over budget, extremely expensive to operate and the lease payments from the State no longer paid Mat-Su’s bond payments. Several legislators suddenly professed surprise that the prison was 38 miles from the nearest population center, very expensive to operate and about to open its doors. So the State Senate, rather than face the financial music, hired an independent auditor to get to the bottom of it.
His audit is available on-line. It’s not a pretty picture. Among the more egregious unexplained changes: the water and sewer treatment facilities – the new prison is 38 miles from public water and sewer, after all – somehow magically drifted out of the bond package and became a $28 million add-on, on an adjoining parcel of property acquired by Mat-Su from the State, and then, in effect, sold back to the State as a water and sewer facility for $120,000. Those financing decisions are unexplained – the auditor reports that the State of Alaska refused to turn over some 78 pages of emails and documents.
In the meantime, Mat-Su Borough has “disavowed” its own bonds. (WC sure wishes he could that with his bills.) Presumably, the State of Alaska is making the bond payments to the bondholders to avoid damaging the State of Alaska’s bond rating. The prison itself – Goose Creek Correction Center – remains mothballed and completely unused.
So how many prisoners are actually housed in Goose Creek today? None. Zero. Nada.
Among the white elephants that the State of Alaska has created over the years – the barley silo in Valdez; the slaughterhouse in Fairbanks – Goose Creek probably wins some kind of prize as the biggest fiasco so far.
Andrew Halcro is practically frothing at the mouth over all this, but he has a crucial point: why doesn’t the Legislature care about any of this? Why did Senator Bert Stedman (R-Sitka), who initiated the audit, suddenly back away? Does the Legislature have a plan for the care, feeding and use of this latest white elephant?
Not so far, as far as anyone outside the closed door caucuses can tell. Apparently, our Elected Representatives are content to pay debt service on $244 million in revenue bonds after Mat-Su’s “disavowal,” and hire folks to guard Goose Creek Correctional Center from, you know, criminals. Too late.