TOPEKA, Kan. — Republican and Democratic legislative leaders on Thursday delayed for at least two weeks a decision on whether to approve a contract with a private company to build a new state prison in Lansing.
The State Finance Council, which includes Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and leaders from the House and Senate, unanimously agreed to wait until Jan. 18 to consider a proposed lease-to-own arrangement for a new prison to replace the state’s oldest and largest prison in Lansing.
The Kansas Department of Corrections has negotiated a deal with CoreCivic, which would design, build and maintain a 2,400-bed prison while the state would staff and operate it. Late insertions into the contract include a ban on the state working with CoreCivic to privatize management of the new prison, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported .
Senate President Susan Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, both Republicans, said they wanted more time to study a final version of the contract.
“I don’t want to ask for forgiveness on this,” Denning said. “If I make a bad decision, then I want to own it. We owe it to taxpayers that we don’t act on this today until we see the final document.”
Brownback initially objected to tabling the contract but eventually voted for the delay.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he was concerned about the reliability of CoreCivic, citing a U.S. Department of Justice report that the company endangered prisoners through inadequate staffing and lawsuits that allege the company engaged in “false and misleading statements” about its operations.
Damon Hininger, president and CEO of Nashville-based CoreCivic, disputed those assertions but said the two-week delay wouldn’t disrupt the financing plan for the prison.
“We hold ourselves to a very high standard,” said Hininger. “We know this is a big, big deal.”
Joe Norwood, secretary of the Corrections Department, stressed that the state, not CoreCivic, would operate the prison.
“It doesn’t concern you that your partner in building this has a lawsuit saying they don’t tell the truth?” Ward said. “I’m 100 percent behind getting a new prison. I don’t trust your partners.”
A state audit this summer suggested a lease-purchase deal could cost up to 16 percent more than financing the prison with bonds. The department and CoreCivic disagree and have been working to convince top legislators the lease-purchase deal is better. Among other things, they say the new prison would be more efficient, which would drastically reduce the workforce needs.
Under the proposal, the state’s first payment would be $14.9 million and increase 1.9 percent annually during the 20-year contract.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com