House votes to delay opening of Springfield prison

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(Host) The House gave Governor Jim Douglas another budget defeat on Wednesday. House members rejected the governor’s plan to open the Springfield prison this summer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the second day in a row, the Vermont House has failed to support a major budget priority of Governor Jim Douglas. On Tuesday, the House soundly defeated Douglas’ plan to add 10 new state troopers in next year’s budget, and on Wednesday the governor’s proposal to open the Springfield prison on schedule this fall was rejected by a 24-vote margin.

The $27 million facility was supposed to open in July and prisoners were set to be transferred to the prison in October. However the economics of incarceration played a major factor in this debate. It costs roughly $30,000 a year to house an inmate in Vermont while a prisoner can be sent to a Virginia jail for $17,000 a year. Representative Alice Emmons (D-Springfield) urged the House to open the prison on time and keep a promise made to her community:

(Emmons) “And why is this promise to the people of Springfield so important? As many of you know Springfield has been on an economic decline for many, many years. This correctional facility would offer 130 jobs to the people of Springfield and the neighboring areas. We did not invest that money over the last five years to have this building sit idle for five months, eight months, a year, two years – whatever it may be.”

(Kinzel) Representative Martha Heath (D-Westford), who’s the vice chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, said her panel faced some difficult decisions with the budget. This was one case where committee members felt the money could be better used supporting other programs:

(Heath) “You will see that the money that we saved by delaying the opening of Springfield for nine months is used in some very important places. It was our decision that spreading the cost of opening the new prison over two years made sense.”

(Kinzel) The proposed budget for next year will now be reviewed by the Senate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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