State police unions endorse Sink; PBA calls Scott plan ‘dangerous’

Posted: October 8, 2010 in News and politics
 
 
 
State police unions endorse Sink; PBA calls Scott plan ‘dangerous’

By CATHERINE WHITTENBURG | The Tampa Tribune

The Police Benevolent Association, which has endorsed Alex Sink for governor, slammed her GOP opponent’s budget-cutting plan as "dangerous" to the public.

This is the first time in 20 years that Florida’s Police Benevolent Association and Fraternal Order of Police have both endorsed a Democrat in the governor’s race. Today, PBA director David Murrell called Republican candidate Rick Scott’s proposal to cut almost $7 billion out of the $70-billion state budget —including $1 billion cut from the $2.3 billion prison budget — a "dangerous" plan that would trigger the early release of inmates.

Scott’s plan includes a 5 percent across-the-board cut to the state payroll, which Murrell said would only exacerbate the stress on prisons and law enforcement. "The Department of Corrections cannot operate that way. The only alternative is to release inmates early. We stopped that years ago with the 85 percent law that now-Gov. Charlie Crist pushed though [the Legislature], and this plan will negate the 85 percent law. So absolutely, it’s going to be dangerous."

Murrell spoke after appearing with Sink and her running mate, Rod Smith. Sink noted that the prison population has been rising, quipping that Scott needs a "lesson in arithmetic."

The prison population has risen from 81,974 to 102,232 since 2004, according to the state Corrections Department.

Smith, a former Gainesville prosecutor and state senator, said Florida’s track record of fighting crime has improved because dangerous criminals now serve much longer sentences. "To say that you’re just going to cut the budget and not expect that means opening the doors, is kidding yourself."

Scott is proposing the budget cuts as part of a much larger plan to stimulate the growth of 700,000 jobs in seven years. He intends to make the $1-billion cut to the prisons budget by implementing specific reforms, such as competitively bidding health care contracts and using inmates to raise food—strategies that the department has already implemented, at least to some extent. Last year, prison inmates grew 4.8 million pounds of food, according to the Corrections Department, which also has private contracts now for inmate health care services including hospitals, specialty physicians, radiation services and X-rays.

Scott’s campaign responded this afternoon to what it called "Sink surrogate lies and scare tactics."

"The unions are lining up behind Tallahassee politician Alex Sink who will continue wasteful policies at the expense of taxpayers and protect the status quo," said Scott spokesman Chad Colby. "Florida has nearly double the cost per prisoner of other states and by using what has worked in other states, Rick Scott will reduce the cost of prisons by spending tax-dollars more wisely. Alex Sink should disavow these inaccurate scare tactics."

Colby cited 2006 federal Bureau of Justice statistics showing that Florida’s cost per prisoner is $71.93, compared to $48.45 in Texas, $36.97 in Louisiana and $36.83 in Mississippi.

His data conflicts, however with that listed online by the Department of Corrections, which listed a $52.06 cost per prisoner in Florida for 2005-2006. In 2008-2009, the figure was $52.

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