Here are the reasons that I voted No on this legislation, and why I will vote No again on the ballot proposition concerning the prison.
First of all, I have stated many times that I am not opposed to a private prison, but the arrangements must be good business practices. I have stated this issue many times, starting back last fall, when the Kenai Peninsula legislative delegation, made up of myself, Rep. Ken Lancaster, Rep. Drew Scalzi, and Rep. Mike Chenault met with the borough.
Good business practices to me means that the construction and operation of this facility be bid out no sole source contracts.
Then, again, on April 6, I signed a letter to the borough outlining my concerns. The letter stated:
1. It not be a sole source contract;
2. A plan for construction and operation be finalized prior to passage of the legislation;
3. A site be identified and obtained;
4. Numbers on the cost of the project, construction and operation, be clearly identified, and;
5. Involvement of the borough and the risks associated with the involvement be fully identified.
All of these concerns remain, except for the site.
I am still baffled about how the Alaska State Legislature can authorize a project of this size, without once seeing the numbers and the cost of construction and operation.
Just think about it for a moment: A group of companies approaches the Legislature, requests a bill to authorize the state to enter into an agreement to build and operate a facility, with payments in the range of $600 to $700 million over a 20-year period, and the Legislature approves the arrangement, without once seeing what the costs are going to be.
The legislation even passed the House with an automatic inflation adjuster in it. We dont even inflation-proof education, but that provision won approval. (That provision was removed in the Senate).
Political science classes will be studying this for years.
I am embarrassed by a group of companies, which instead of adhering to sound business practices, would hire the top lobbyists in Alaska to sway state officials to receive a sole source contract.
What happened to sealed bids and the bidding process? I can remember when I was on the assembly, we fought over lawn-mowing contracts, radio station bids, road maintenance bids, snow removal almost all bids had a disgruntled bidder.
I guess under this new way of doing business we can award contracts for hundreds of years, if the ceiling is now set at $600 to $700 million per sole source contract.
Now the borough is asking us to do the same thing: approve an arrangement without knowing any of the cost of community impacts of this facility.
Some supporters are now saying if we dont vote Yes on the project, then it will be swept away to another community in the state. This is not true. First, I dont know of another community that would take this project, under the same terms and conditions. Second, it would take another action by the Legislature to approve such a change.
I am concerned that this proposal has broken down the trust of so many people and disrupted the faith many had in their government. It has also impacted personal lives, putting neighbor against neighbor, colleague against colleague, and even family members against family members.
If this passes by the slimmest of margins, then the borough is the loser, for all we really accomplished is to cause bad feelings among ourselves, and an operation that will be constantly under scrutiny of borough residents.
Remember, a No vote doesnt send this project away; it just tells the borough to get their facts and figures together, (gives them two years to do it) to find out what the impacts are and what the risks to the borough are.
In closing I want to share with you a response to a question that I asked the Department of Corrections recently, which I think best makes my point for me:
Question: What estimated cost of construction are you expecting for this facility and has that cost been discussed with either the Kenai Peninsula Borough or the proposed operator, Cornell Corporation?
Response: Neither the Kenai Peninsula Borough nor Cornell has discussed construction costs with us. The Department of Corrections in-house facility managers have predicted construction costs of between $70 and $100 million.
Lets get the facts before we approve this project.
Sen. John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, is a former Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1994.
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