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Kentucky: House votes not to privatize prison.
Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Budget language retained
Aimed to keep Elliott prison state run
The Independent

SANDY HOOK Language aimed at keeping the new Little Sandy Correctional Complex state run remained in the House budget plan Tuesday as legislators there passed the nearly $15 billion spending bill on to the Senate.

Contracting out the facility's operation has never been an option, said Rep. Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, majority floor leader who fought the prison's privatization.

"Today, the House overwhelmingly showed their agreement," Adkins said late Tuesday afternoon, after the chamber's 64-36 vote.

The budget plan provides an additional $9.45 million over the biennium from within the state corrections budget to ensure the facility is fully-funded and state-run, Adkins said.

Its language requires "that no action be taken to privatize any service that is currently being performed at or for an entire adult correctional facility," his office said.

The budget now moves on to the Senate, but could be revised there.

"We are hopeful that the Senate will agree that the changes made by the House are in the best interests of the people we serve," Adkins said, vowing to continue the fight.

Elliott County leaders as well as residents hoping for jobs at the 895-bed $90 million state prison being built on the outskirts of Sandy Hook also remain watchful of the situation in Frankfort.

"It definitely should stay state run and it should be employees from the area who run it," said Julian Fyffe, Elliott County Chamber of Commerce president.

People will likely watch the privatization issue, and their legislators' actions, closely until the budget's fully passed by House, Senate and governor, Fyffe said.

The prison, expected to open in June, was billed as an economic booster for the job-poor area when construction began under Gov. Paul Patton's administration.

The call to privatize it, in other words contract its operation to an outside vendor, first came from within Gov. Ernie Fletcher's administration earlier this winter.

Officials said they were eying all options to cut state costs in a time of budgetary crisis, and couldn't let the prison system drive the state's economy.

Adkins and other northeast Kentucky legislators fired back in January with criticism that future workers could lose out financially under privatization. It's bad public policy to turn the keys of a public construction project over to a private company, Adkins said.

The administration stressed employees would still be needed, and probably would be hired locally, whether run by a private company or by the state.

Elliott County Judge-Executive Charles Pennington said then that the county was eagerly awaiting an estimated 350 state jobs and a $17 million payroll.

Pennington was in Frankfort Tuesday, and could not be reached for comment.

The people still care a great deal about those jobs, as state jobs, Fyffe said.

"Elliott County should get the better part of the jobs," he said. "There's plenty of people around here who can do it."

Fyffe said he's retired, and not looking for a job now, but those who are looking worry that there might not be as many local jobs at a privately-run prison and some worry that the pay might not be as good.

"And I don't think they should go in there and tear up something somebody else started," he said. "They should try to build on it."

As it moved toward committee passage Friday, and onto the floor this week, the House budget bill did not escape the political quarreling.

House Democrats issued a summary of it Monday, claiming to have restored "time-tested education programs that were slashed by Gov. Fletcher in his budget proposal for the next two years."

Hours before Tuesday's vote, the Fletcher administration aimed fresh criticism at Democrats who drastically rewrote his budget bill. Spokesmen called the substitute budget irresponsible, mainly for the amount of construction debt it implied.

Fletcher said the budget he presented was focused on economic development. It earmarked money for university research facilities and for technical training centers.

The House committee decided to put more money into education and state government salaries.

State Budget Director Brad Cowgill called the committee's bill "a prescription for going back to the very same conditions that got us to where we are a condition that says buy now, pay later."

The wrangling even drew in the new Elliott County prison as a sort of political playing card.

Gearing up for the House battle Tuesday, Minority Leader Jeff Hoover of Jamestown filed floor amendments calculated to put House Democratic leaders on the defensive.

One would take $2.5 million away from the prison in Adkins' home turf and apply it toward a business technical center at Eastern Kentucky University. The appropriations committee chairman, Rep. Harry Moberly of Richmond, works for the university.

ALLEN BLAIR can be reached at or (606) 326-2657.

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