Scott’s plan to privatize prisons riles Teamsters
The Teamsters are fired up over Rick Scott’s plan to privatize a large part of Florida’s prisons–are you?
Via Orlando Sentinel
TALLAHASSEE — Florida policymakers’ push to privatize a huge part of its prison system has drawn the wrath of the Teamsters union, which announced Wednesday that it had filed an ethics complaint against Gov. Rick Scott.
The complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics says Scott’s privatization push is “tainted” because he accepted $30,000 for his inaugural committee from the two largest companies vying for the contracts, the GEO Group and Corrections Corp. of America. The companies also contributed more than $1 million to candidates in 2010, it says. It also says Scott has a conflict of interest because the State Board of Administration, which he chairs, owns $10 million in stock in the two companies in the state pension fund.
But the complaint is vague as to how that would violate Florida’s ethics law. Generally, those laws preclude state employees from leaving government service and lobbying for entities they worked with on state time, or benefitting from contracts they had a part in negotiating as state employees.
“The governor clearly has a conflict of interest with both CCA and GEO bidding to secure contracts for prison management,” said Teamsters International Vice President Ken Wood, who filed the complaint.
“Using either GEO or CCA to manage prisons doesn’t make sense either financially or ethically for the state,” Wood said. “We are urging the ethics commission to take action in this matter and find that the governor violated his responsibilities to the people of the state of Florida.”
Responded Scott spokesman Lane Wright: “There’s no ethics violation here. Between two and three hundred companies and individuals donated to the inauguration fund. And that money went to the Republican Party of Florida … not to Gov. Scott directly. Besides, the prison contract is going to go to the lowest bidder, whoever that is. Gov. Scott has nothing to do with the selection process.”
Scott, a Republican who pledged to cut spending on the nation’s third-largest prison system by one-third during his 2010 campaign, has pulled back some of his privatization plans in recent weeks and dismissed his corrections secretary, Ed Buss, over “differences in philosophy and management styles.” Scott officials were angry that the department failed to run several high-profile decisions through the governor’s staff.
Florida already has seven privately run prisons, and the push to privatize 29 more in 18 South Florida counties was intended to save $22 million annually. The nation’s two largest private prison companies competing for the business — including Boca Raton-based GEO Group — recently told investors the shift was an “unprecedented” opportunity.
Over the summer, the Department of Corrections said the effort is already $25 million in the redbecause of the comp time, vacation and sick leave the agency would have to pay to some 3,800 workers in those facilities if they lose their jobs.
DOC Chief Deputy Secretary Daniel Ronay wrote in a May 13 email to another department executive that “with the additional closing of another facility (yet to be determined) … this payout may just cripple the agency for next FY,” or fiscal year.
Lawmakers have since scoffed at those concerns.
But the Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison corrections officers, has filed a lawsuit to block the privatization.
The PBA, which endorsed Scott’s Democratic opponent Alex Sink in 2010, said that the Legislature broke the law by inserting the massive privatization plan into the budget, rather than passing as separate legislation. Making substantive changes to state law through the appropriations process is unconstitutional, it argued.
The suit also charges that according to state law, the state could enter into a private prison contract only if it offered substantial savings in the per-diem costs for inmates. But, it says, the state has not yet determined the baseline per-diem cost to the state of running these facilities.
The PBA has asked to depose Buss as part of its lawsuit, but the state is seeking to block that.
“As a former agency head, Mr. Buss is entitled not to be compelled to testify,” the Attorney General’s office, which is representing the state, wrote in its motion.
Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford will hear the first part of the case on whether the privatization order is unconstitutional on Sept. 29. The second part, on whether it saves the state money, will be heard on Oct. 25.
Kathleen Haughney contributed. firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-222-5564.