HELENA – The company that owns Montana’s only private prison has offered $30 million to help solve the state’s budget crisis – if the Bullock administration would extend the company’s contract for another 10 years, MTN News has learned.
The money would come from a fund set aside to help the state buy the privately owned and operated Crossroads Correctional Center near Shelby, after 2019.
The state has been paying into the fund since 1999, as part of its contract with prison owner CoreCivic, but the company controls the fund.
But Bullock, a Democrat, indicated Tuesday he’s not interested in pursuing the option — and that CoreCivic hadn’t presented any specific proposal.
“Montana’s immediate challenge is how to prevent cuts that will hurt our communities and vulnerable populations,” his office said in a statement. “The governor is focused on how we find a balanced solution to this problem, not obligating the state to a multimillion-dollar, 10-year contract.”
The Bullock administration has indicated it may want to have the state purchase and take over the 600-bed prison once the current contract expires in 2019.
Two state lawmakers, in whose districts the private prison resides, told MTN News they favor extending its contract and transferring the funds to help close a hole in the state budget.
“The governor could do this through his own negotiation and bring the money into the (state) treasury,” said Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. “If the governor chooses not to do it, it’s on him. The crisis we have is now and the money we need is now.”
“We’re in a revenue crisis, and the governor is letting his ideology get in the way of an easy, short-term solution,” added Rep. Rob Cook, R-Conrad.
A spokesman for Tennessee-based CoreCivic – formerly Corrections Corp. of America – declined to comment specifically about any proposal it has made to the state.
“We are aware of budget challenges in Montana and we’re willing to engage with our partner on potential solutions,” said Jonathan Burns. “We are proud of our nearly 20-year history in Montana and are hopeful that partnership will continue for many years to come.”
The state is facing a $227 million budget shortfall, because of lower-than-expected tax revenue and summer firefighting costs that exceeded the state fire fund by nearly $40 million.
Gov. Bullock ordered state agencies in late August to submit 10 percent cuts, to balance the budget, and he has authority to implement those reductions. But the governor has said he’d like to have the state Legislature meet in special session to raise taxes or approve budget transfers to help alleviate some of those cuts.
Bullock and key lawmakers have been meeting and discussing possible solutions, but have yet to come forward with specific proposals.
As part of its contract with CoreCivic, the state has been paying $9.14 per prisoner per day into a fund that could be used to finance state purchase of the prison near Shelby. The fund has accumulated about $30 million.
Cook and Jones said the $30 million transfer from the CCC fund could help close the budget gap.
Jones said the state clearly needs the prison space at the Shelby facility, so he doesn’t see why the state would object to extending CoreCivic’s contract for another 10 years.