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Bill would require Idaho to compare state, private prison costs

After Idaho’s state Board of Correction refused to consider state operation as it seeks a new operator for a troubled privately run prison south of Boise, a state lawmaker has drafted legislation requiring all state agencies to consider that option when they solicit bids. Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said he’s not convinced the state is saving any money by paying Corrections Corp. of America $30 million a year to operate the Idaho Correctional Center. “There is a view that private contractors can perform functions less expensively, but I think sometimes they can’t,” he said. Gannon is now circulating his proposed bill, trying to get discussion going among lawmakers.

In late June, the state Board of Correction voted to seek new bids to operate the Idaho Correctional Center starting next year, but rejected the idea of considering state operation as well. Board Chairwoman Robin Sandy said at the time that state operation would grow Idaho’s government, which she opposed. “There would be several hundred more state employees,” she said. Five years ago, the state Department of Correction sought permission from Gov. Butch Otter and the board to submit its own bid for comparison, but the board refused, and Otter deferred to the board.

His spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Wednesday that Otter’s position hasn’t changed. “The governor doesn’t seek to micromanage his agencies,” Hanian said.

Gannon drafted his bill after reviewing pay figures from other states showing that Idaho’s wages for prison guards far below those in most states; he said that shows that private prison companies can operate more cheaply in some states – but not in Idaho. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, was non-committal Wednesday on the idea of legislation, but said, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to bid it, to get a price from either side. … You would think that would be just a good practice.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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