If you are philosophically opposed to private, for-profit prisons and think corrections is a function of government and not business, then your decision about which way to vote on Proposition 1 come Oct. 2 is easy. You clearly will vote "No."
If you equate the private prison proposal with jobs and economic opportunity for the Kenai Peninsula Borough, then your decision about Proposition 1 is equally clear cut. You will cast a "Yes" vote.
What if, however, you've heard legitimate arguments for both a "Yes" and a "No" vote or have an equal amount of disgust for the ramping up of the rhetoric from the true believers on both sides of this issue? Which way should your vote go?
How do you reconcile the fact that respected members of the community are on opposite sides on the private prison proposal? This isn't an issue that has sorted itself out along political party lines. It isn't an issue in which the community leaders voters normally would look to for guidance all agree. The assembly is divided; the legislative delegation is divided; the Kenai City Council is divided; former borough mayors have taken different positions; only the Soldotna City Council has been unanimously opposed to the concept of a private prison.
It's unfortunate that discussion of the issue has become so divisive. Different viewpoints should be respected. Vigorous debate should lead to a better project.
What's a voter to do? Which "facts" do you believe when those "facts" seemingly contradict one another?
Should you vote "No" and kill the project?
Is it responsible to vote "Yes" without having all the information you need?
Clearly, more information is needed -- and that's why voters should cast a "Yes" vote on Proposition 1.
It is irresponsible to turn away a $66-million project before a feasibility study is done. A "Yes" vote will allow that feasibility study to be completed. A "Yes" vote does not mean a private prison will be built, but it would authorize the borough to take all steps necessary to contract for the operation of a private, for-profit prison located within the borough. Borough officials have assured voters a "Yes" vote does not guarantee a "done deal."
A feasibility study could raise enough red flags about the proposal that the process would not continue -- or it could ease people's fears about what a private prison would mean to the community. Reaching an acceptable contract that meets the borough's needs, the state's requirements and the private company's goals could prove to be an insurmountable challenge and stop the project.
The point is the process has not gone far enough to decide whether a private prison would be a blessing or curse to the peninsula.
Certainly there is the potential for jobs and economic development -- enough potential that voters should not kill the project without more study and discussion. And because there's never been another project like it in the state of Alaska, everyone will want to dot their i's and cross their t's to ensure its success.
The private prison proposal has raised questions that deserve answers. That's why we would encourage voters to cast a "Yes" vote come Oct. 2.
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