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franklin county times

Musgrove and state prisons

By By Terry Cassreino / assistant managing editor
July 7, 2002
Ronnie Musgrove is a busy man these days.
If solving the Medicaid crisis and helping Nissan expand its still-unfinished auto plant weren't enough, the governor says he is also trying to save taxpayers millions of dollars by renegotiating contracts with operators of five privately-run prisons.
Let's hope he does. Because if he doesn't, the Mississippi Department of Corrections will find itself burdened with operating eight prisons rather than the state's three unless, of course, it sends all inmates to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
And with Parchman almost always running at or close to capacity, that seems highly unlikely. So if Musgrove's private prison contract negotiations fail, then Mississippi will face some serious prison problems.
The state Department of Corrections sent letters last month to the companies that operate the state's five privately-run prisons, including East Mississippi Correctional Facility at Meehan Junction. The letters said the state was terminating contracts with the companies.
The problem: Musgrove said the state doesn't have enough money to pay the private companies to manage the prisons because he vetoed part of a bill during the 2002 Legislature that would have provided funding.
Musgrove's action raises a serious, fundamental question: Why would a governor veto portions of a bill designed to fund already-signed contracts with companies that manage prisons to keep convicted criminals off the street?
The governor said he did so because he found it appalling the Legislature would spend $54.7 million on private prisons in the midst of a serious budget crunch. An economic recession has forced officials to slash millions from state agency budgets.
Musgrove even conveniently dismissed a state attorney general's opinion that said the veto was invalid. The bill automatically became law, the opinion said, and the money is in place to fund the private prisons.
But the governor didn't care.
And here we are, days after the July 1 start of a new state fiscal year, not knowing what will happen with the state's prison system or if the governor will be able to successfully renegotiate the contracts. He might, but we don't know.
Rather than fully discussing his funding concerns with state legislators, Musgrove has taken matters into his own hands just like he has done with other issues in the past.
Musgrove did the same thing with Medicaid, naming a special committee to study the program's financial problems while, at the same time, state House and Senate members plot a different solution with their own special panel.
And now the prison issue.
Musgrove began meeting last week with officials from companies that are running the five private prisons. And he said he might call a special session later this summer to deal with the prison issue.
That's just what Mississippi needs another costly and needless special session.
At the rate things are going, state legislators might as well plan on three additional special sessions this year if Musgrove follows through on promises to call one on Medicaid and another on tort reform.
And, of course, they will follow the June special session in which Musgrove persuaded lawmakers to grant Nissan Motor Co. an extra $68 million in incentives to expand its Madison County plant scheduled to open next year.
So let's get this straight: Musgrove complains about spending $54.7 million to fund private prisons and keep criminals off the street, but he calls a special session last month to grant Nissan Motor Co. $68 million in incentives.
Something just doesn't seem right about that.
Maybe Musgrove is working a bit too hard these days.

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