Earlier this summer, the private operator of Allen Correctional Center began disseminating information, making the formal request earlier this month, that it would opt out of its contract at the end of this month. After some deliberation, the state decided to take over the property, but with a different mission: instead of housing prisoners for their sentences, it will serve as an intake center for recent convicts coming from five large-populated parishes and as an exit station for some prisoners soon to reenter society at the completion of their sentences.
Administration officials said they had considered plans for some time to begin a consolidated intake process, potentially expanding it to other parishes in the future, for inmates without special circumstances and establishing the reentry program for those planning to live in southwest Louisiana. Whether that also could expand in geographic scope remains unclear.
This repackaging has in it a mixture of opportunism and acting in the breach. Officials stated need for these kinds of programs in response to reforms recently enacted backed by Edwards. However, they had looked for space elsewhere, as if they did not anticipate the end of the contract.
The imprisoned population theoretically would decrease as a result of the reforms, meaning that the state could have shed voluntarily then shuttered a private prison contract to save money, yet it seems the state did not consider this, to the consternation of some lawmakers. Instead, the Administration hopes this extra layer of services can lower costs through better placement of incoming convicts and less recidivism by those leaving, although the latter on the surface appears somewhat hastily conceived as if unanticipated space had opened up and the state needed something to do with it.
But if the repurposing of Allen does deliver budgetary savings, Edwards can point to this as a policy victory. However, the latest budgetary news draws attention to something looming that would mark for him a clearly political defeat.
Last week, the Legislature’s staff provided information on projected revenues for fiscal year 2019. Analysts told budget leaders that the sales tax hike's expiration; growth in expenses, including the need to cover costs that have been delayed; and oil projections, have pushed the previously anticipated billion-dollar figure to $1.5 billion.
Some legislators expressed skepticism that the number had to extend that high, pointing out that this included items such as inflationary increases that agencies could absorb. Still, even without what might seem optional expenses, clearly the gap had increased over the estimates staff had provided to legislators during the budget-writing process in the regular and second special sessions earlier this year.
These data will comprise one of the two choices provided to the Revenue Estimating Conference when it next meets, which then will crank out an official estimate of revenues for this and next fiscal year. And this initial signal suggests the REC will lower that amount for FY 2018.
If so, this puts major egg on the face of Edwards and makes the Republican House of Representatives leadership look prescient and better stewards of public dollars. The latter resisted Edwards’ efforts to spend all available money, with it recommending budgeting 1 to 2.5 percent lower precisely because it doubted, given recent history of projections, that all believed revenues would materialize. A few recalcitrant GOP representatives bucked it to get the Edwards budget out of the House, where the Senate Republican leadership forced the plan through over the objections of a vocal minority.
House leaders warned Edwards that he took a reckless path which would mean cuts would have to come later in the year rather than earlier, when these could be made more easily at the front end. It looks as if they may be headed to a big telling him so on this that will make him look less competent as a leader and like an unreformed big spender.