Prison spending plays major role in debate over projected state budget deficit (Updated)
When it comes to describing his plans for dealing with the state’s $2.5 billion projected budget deficit, Gov.-elect Rick Scott has been short on specifics. In a recent interview on Bloomberg Television, he singles out prisons, pensions “and other areas” for spending cuts.
His plan for prisons gotten the most attention. Scott’s supposed plan to slash the $2.4 Department of Corrections budget by $1 billion — a cut of nearly 40 percent — has been widely reported, editorialized against and even fact-checked since it became campaign fodder in the fall.
But that’s not Scott’s plan, according to transition team spokesman Trey Stapleton. “The Governor-elect believes we can save $1 billion over 7 years by looking at areas that aren’t competitive with other states – not in areas that put public safety at risk,” he writes via email. (Emphasis added.)
The savings are part of Scott’s “7-7-7″ plan to shrink government and create jobs, which promises that “prisoner costs would be reduced by $1 billion.” It doesn’t specify a time frame for those savings, nor does it mention the department’s $2.4 billion annual budget. One of the “sevens” in the plan’s name does stand for seven years.
The “7-7-7″ blueprint appears to be the origin of the $1 billion figure. It was the source cited by PolitiFact in its assessment of a campaign ad run by the Police Benevolent Association, a law enforcement union that endorsed Alex Sink for governor. PolitiFact rated “barely true” the claim that “Rick Scott’s prison plan would cut Florida’s prison budget in half, close prisons, and release tens of thousands of prisoners early.”
The grain of truth, according to PolitiFact, lay in the part about Scott proposing to cut half the corrections budget, since $1 billion amounts to a 40 percent cut, or close to half.
Scott has provided few specifics on what he does have planned. He has said he plans to increase programs in which prisoners grow their own food, privatize prison clinics and bring worker salaries in line with comparable positions in the public sector.
Matt Puckett of the Police Benevolent Association says he sees the statement from Scott’s team as a “backtrack.”