State Auditor Jim Zeigler appeared on The Jeff Poor Show on January 26, 2021 and called on the state legislature to stop the Ivey administration from proceeding with Governor Kay Ivey’s plan to contract with private businesses to build three prisons with 30 year contracts bearing an estimated annual $88 million price tag. It was not the first time that Zeigler has spoken out publicly against the Ivey prison plan.
Yellowhammer reported a summary of Zeigler’s arguments about the bad plan:
“The Ivey administration has come up with a way to bypass the Alabama Legislature so they will not to get to vote on the new Ivey prison lease plan,” he said. “They will not get any input. It is all being done by the administration. I have a problem with that, but even worse — the plan is a bad plan. Their plan would have contracts let with private companies to construct three super prisons — one in Escambia County, Alabama, one in Bibb County, Alabama, and one in Elmore County, Alabama.”
Zeigler noted the contract would be for 30 years, which at $88 million per year rent would amount to $2.6 billion over those three decades, with the state having no equity once the lease expired.
“This is no way to do business,” Zeigler argued. “A private businessman would have never concocted such a scheme to pay through the nose for 30 years and then own nothing — zero equity in the plan. This needs to be stopped, and it is not going to be easy. Every day that goes by, the Department of Corrections is moving on toward this plan. They’re next going to be letting the contract. At that point, it is harder and harder to block the thing. The state legislature could block all of this, but it would take some tough medicine — for instance, outlawing this type of scheme or making it illegal. Second, [it could] take $88 million out of the Department of Corrections’ budget and announce your intention to the administration we’re not going to pay that $88 million. Either of those two things could do it. Hopefully, there will be some other ways when the legislature comes back … that they’ll have some way to stop a bad, irresponsible prison plan.”
On Saturday, January 30, Regions Bank confirmed that it will not provide financing to CoreCivic to build two men’s prisons to be leased by the State of Alabama. Zeigler posted the following on his own Facebook page:
While the Regions announcement does not appear to specifically include the Bibb County project the loss of it may represent a significant blow to the overall project for the Ivey administration.
Meanwhile, State Auditor Jim Zeigler appears has been one of few elected state official to publicly speak out against Governor Kay Ivey’s plan to obligate the State [and you the taxpayer] to 30 years of debt.
However, opposition has been building. Kim Chandler of the Associated Press wrote on January 30 :
“Ivey has proposed the construction as a partial solution to Alabama’s longstanding problems in corrections, which had drawn the scrutiny of federal watchdogs.
In December, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Alabama over conditions in the state prisons, saying the state is failing to protect male inmates from inmate-on-inmate violence and excessive force at the hands of prison staff. The state’s Department of Correction has said the lawsuit ignores progress the state has made to improve the lockups.
The prison building proposal has met with sharp criticism from a coalition of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, Alabama Students Against Prisons and the Ordinary Peoples Society. In a letter to lawmakers and others, they said Alabama is getting “swindled” and that new prison construction will not address the underlying problems in the correctional system.
“It is astounding that Governor Ivey is prioritizing fiscally irresponsible and devastating contracts for prisons that do not address our most urgent needs as Alabamians,” the groups wrote.
Instead of a bond issue to borrow money to build the prisons, which would require legislative approval, the governor can sign the leases without legislative approval. A group of lawmakers this week urged the administration to release more information, including the profit margin for companies before signing the leases.
Republican Rep. Rich Wingo of Tuscaloosa said that because lawmakers will be responsible for any funding shortfall, they need to know more information about the plan.