Friday, October 19, 2007

"If you can't staff the prisons you've got, how can we afford to build more?"

If there is not enough money in the budget for current and new employees, then how is there enough money in the budget for the construction of three new prisons? Up for vote soon is Proposition #4, which would, amongst various other things, finance the maintenance of current state prisons as well as the construction of three new ones. Proposition #4 would call for the issuance of $1 billion in bonds. The biggest fraction would go to funding the new state prisons, $233 million, and an additional $40 million would be for the renovation of current institutions. According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Texas is projected to exceed its current prison capacity by 10,000 beds in 2009. But Texas already has the highest prison population in not only the United States, but in the world. Although expanding our prison system may seem an exigent concern, an alternate course of action that does not include the construction of new prisons is ideal. The TCJC recommends reforming the parole and probation system as an alternative. Depending on the source, the arguments for and against the proposition are conflictive. Taxpayers and the conservative group “Americans For Prosperity” argue that, with our current state budget surplus, should we be borrowing money to finance maintenance, which is an “ongoing expense?” But these groups half-heartedly sanction the construction of new prisons—just not maintenance. But Texan prison guards are wary to build upon an already unstable prison system. We will see what happens with Proposition #4.

Reference: the Grits for Breakfast web blog, Oct. 15th's post
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Friday, October 5, 2007

SCHIP receives presidential veto

On October 3rd, President Bush vetoed a bill that would have expanded the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) substantially, doubling the number of kids covered from 4 million to 8 million. This is president Bush’s fourth veto as president. The bill has wide bi-partisan support and in a recent poll, 72% of people supported the expansion. With the support of Republicans, the Senate overrode Bush’s veto, whereas the House fell just short of the necessary 290 votes. Here is an overview of what the SCHIP is all about, courtesy of the Capital Annex blog: “SCHIP is a state-federal program that provides coverage for 6.6 million children from families that live above the poverty level but have trouble affording health insurance”. The administration (as well as Republicans in Congress, some from Texas) argues that the expansion would lead to “government-run health care...and would be financially irresponsible...a foot in the door to socialized medicine”.

Texas tops the list of states and number of kids uninsured, a stark 14%. Texan Senator John Cornyn and 18 Texan Congressman are among the marginal few who voted against the bill. Apparently the fact that Texas ranks the highest among states of number of children without health insurance is a nonconcern for these 19 government officials.

The proposed bill would expand SCHIP by $35 billion over the next five years. Do the math, that’s a little less than $600 million a month. This compared to the approximate $10 billion we spend in war funds a month. This dichotomy of fiscal policy, that of domestic and international affairs, is horrifying when reduced to simple numbers. Initially, the War on Terror was purportedly justified as a war for American's domestic safety. The war for domestic safety begins, of course, at home, inside our nation's borders. Millions of children will go uninsured, but the children of another nation may or may not sleep better at night (and minus 2, 3 terrorists). Sleep well, children, you may not need that health insurance after all! Oh, and a larger national deficit to boot. Sorry, kids. The administration cannot even begin to justify this embarrassing discrepancy between fundings. The only hope for the bill is an eventual override of Bush’s veto. Hopefully the bill’s proponents can garner enough support by the time it is back up for vote.