5 months ago

Ivey signs expensive 30-year lease agreements to build two massive prisons

In a highly anticipated move, Governor Kay Ivey signed on Monday two 30-year lease agreements that will see to the construction of two new large men’s prisons in Alabama, an enormous financial outlay, and the latest step in dealing with a longstanding issue for the state.

Ivey has faced criticism from members of both political parties in recent days over the secretive manner in which she commissioned the projects and the financial terms of the deal. The governor has insisted the way she negotiated the leases was the only way to secure the best deal for Alabama, which she maintains she has done.

The information released by the governor’s office on Monday said the final lease costs would be no more than the promised limit of $88.6 million per year when figures are adjusted to the projected inflation rates of Fiscal Year 2022.

“Leasing and operating new, modern correctional facilities without raising taxes or incurring debt is without question the most fiscally responsible decision for our State,” remarked Ivey in a release on Monday.

Reporting by ALDailyNews over the weekend showed internal Ivey administration figures that had the total cost of the prison proposal exceeding $3 billion dollars, with annual payments starting at $94 million and increasing each year.

Ivey, and her administration’s Department of Finance, claim the savings recouped by closing several other smaller men’s prisons will be enough to pay for the opening of the mega-facilities. The governor has repeatedly cited this tactic, which she says prevents the raising of taxes or taking on of new debt through bonds, as one of the main features of the lease agreements.

Inmates are expected to arrive at the facilities in 2025, which would trigger the start of the state’s lease payments and the closing of the other smaller and older prisons. Ivey has formed the Alabama Prison Repurposing Commission to determine the proper next steps for the old prisons.

Both leases signed Monday are most directly with the prison construction company CoreCivic, which joined with three other construction companies to incorporate two LLCs in Delaware. Each lease agreement signed by Ivey is, in official terms, with the two respective LLCs.

One of the prisons, termed the “Elmore County Facility” by Ivey, will be built on Rifle Range Road in Tallassee and have a focus on providing medical and mental health services. It will be built by the CoreCivic led Government Real Estate Solutions of Central Alabama, LLC. The full agreement can be accessed here.

Another prison, the “Escambia County Facility,” is set to be constructed on Bell Fork Road near Atmore. Ivey signed an agreement with the CoreCivic aligned Government Real Estate Solutions of South Alabama, LLC for the construction. The full lease agreement for the Escambia prison can be accessed here.

Ivey’s office said Monday that the final lease costs would be publicly released once the deals with CoreCivic are financially closed.

The Elmore County facility is expected to begin construction as soon as the deal is closed, with construction on the Escambia County prison slated to follow in 2022.

Ivey’s office says both prisons should be finished in 2025, a timetable they claim allows for the usual delays that come with large construction projects.

Under the terms of the deal, CoreCivic would build, own and be responsible for the maintenance of the facilities over the next 30 years, which are expected to provide around 7,000 beds between the two locations.

Ivey’s previously announced Alabama Prison Plan includes a third major new prison to be built, this one in Bibb County, by a group called Prison Transformation Partners. Ivey’s office relayed on Monday that negotiations were ongoing with regards to that facility.

A timeline of how Ivey’s prison construction proposal has unfolded is available here.

Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) would staff and have operation control over the sites. The Ivey administration emphasized on Monday this would mean the soon to be constructed facilities are not private prisons.

The lease agreements faced criticism from State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) on Monday, who called it a “terrible idea.” England focused part of his critique on one part of the plan, saying, “After spending over 3 billion dollars, we won’t own the land or the prisons. At the end of the lead agreement, we are going to have to decide whether or not to purchase them or pay whoever owns them to continue to maintain them.”

State Representative Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) tweeted an agreement with England’s low opinion of Ivey’s deal. Alabama Auditor Jim Zeigler, a Republican and frequent Ivey critic, has also voiced disapproval of the plan.

The governor’s office said on Monday that “options to extend the State’s occupancy beyond the 30-year team are included” and noted that after 25 years, ADOC has the right to inspect the facilities and determine whether to terminate or extend the lease. Ivey’s staff says state law prevents the Department of Corrections from owning the facilities.

Legislative leaders such as House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) and incoming State Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield (R-Guntersville) have both offered a willingness to engage with Ivey on her plan, and both thanked her for taking action.

Spurring the need for change in Alabama’s corrections system is the reality that the State of Alabama is currently facing a lawsuit by the federal government that alleges the conditions in Alabama’s men’s prison facilities violate the U.S. Constitution’s protections against cruel and unusual punishment.

If left unchanged, Alabama could see its prison system taken over by the federal government and would then be forced to implement whatever fixes federal authorities determined to be necessary, no matter how costly or unpleasant.

Ivey’s office reminded the public on Monday that when the federal government took over California’s prisons, they forced the release of thousands of inmates.

The governor’s office has made publicly available a “fact sheet” with information about the lease agreements.

“It is no secret that, due to decades of inaction and a lack of resources, our correctional system is at a crossroads. Thanks to Governor Ivey’s vision, tenacity, and leadership, we have reached an important step in our continued work to chart a transformative new course for the Department,” asserted ADOC Commissioner Jeff Dunn on Monday.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

4 hours ago

Jim Zeigler considering ‘exploratory’ effort for Alabama governor in 2022

After much speculation, Gov. Kay Ivey announced her intentions to seek another term as governor in 2022 earlier this month.

Despite what were perceived to be controversial positions on pushing the Rebuild Alabama Act that raised the gasoline tax, her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in determining what could remain open and closed and a failed Mobile Bay/I-10 toll bridge proposal, Ivey is still riding high in polling with strong approve-disapprove numbers.

However, State Auditor Jim Zeigler, whose term as auditor will be over after 2022 and is ineligible to run again because of term limits, told Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Friday that he was considering a run for governor in 2022.

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“I believe it’s very important for Alabama taxpayers, for the state government, for our future to have a viable opponent who has been raising issues and trying to hold the Ivey administration accountable,” he said. “And that is why I am considering myself setting up an exploratory campaign to test the waters for a gubernatorial run. Who else is there — who else took the lead in blocking the toll bridge over Mobile Bay? Who else took the lead in blocking Amendment One that would have taken away your right to vote for school board members and have them all appointed by the Governor? Who else took the lead in blocking this prison rental plan that would have had us paying over $3 billion over 30 years and then owning zero equity in the prisons, a terrible business plan?”

“I don’t know,” Zeigler continued. “If not me, then who?”

If Zeigler runs against Ivey in 2022, it would not be the first time the two of their names appeared on a ballot in a race against one another. In Alabama’s 2020 Republican primary, Zeigler took on Ivey in a race for state delegate for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

Ivey prevailed with 7,182 votes to Zeigler’s 1,729 votes — a margin of 80.6% to 19.4%.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

8 hours ago

Alabama’s May unemployment rate drops to 3.4% — Post-pandemic rate at lows; Record high wages

Alabama’s post-COVID pandemic economic recovery seems to be humming along based on data released Friday by the Alabama Department of Labor.

According to a press release, Department of Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington revealed Alabama’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted May unemployment rate is 3.4%, down from April’s rate of 3.6%.

The 3.4% rate tops the May 2020 number of 7.9%.

“May’s rate represents 75,458 unemployed persons, compared to 79,319 in April and 174,680 in May 2020,” the release said. “May’s unemployed count is the lowest in 2021.”

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(ADOL)

“Our record-breaking streak is continuing in May, and we hope that it continues throughout the rest of the year,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in the statement. “Yet again, we’ve dropped our unemployment rate and each month we are getting closer and closer to our pre-pandemic record low unemployment rate of 2.6%. Our economy is adding jobs, and earlier barriers to joining the workforce have been significantly reduced. In fact, there are more job postings than there are people counted as unemployed! Alabama is, once again, open for business.”

Data showed that wage and salary employment grew last month by 4,700.

“Monthly gains were seen in the leisure and hospitality sector (+5,000), the trade, transportation, and utilities sector (+2,500), and the education and health services sector (+1,200), among others. Over the year, wage and salary employment increased 123,000, with gains in the leisure and hospitality sector (+37,100), the professional and business services sector (+23,000), and the manufacturing sector (+22,900), among others,” the release said.

Average weekly earnings for the private sector rose to a new record high of $974.12, up $66.91 over the year, according to the Department of Labor.

“As we continue to see improvement in nearly all sectors of the economy, we’re also seeing record high wages in Alabama,” Washington added. “Once again, our average weekly wages are at new record high, representing an almost $67 per week over-the-year increase. Both the leisure and hospitality and manufacturing sectors are showing record high wages as well, with significant yearly increases. The economy is responding as we expected to labor force fluctuations brought about by the pandemic.”

Broken down by county, Shelby County led the way with a rate of 1.8%, followed by Blount, Marshall, Franklin and DeKalb Counties.

Wilcox County topped the highest in the state with an unemployment rate of 8.8%.

When broken down by municipalities, Alabaster had the lowest rate at 1.7%. Selma had the state’s highest, coming in at 7.0%, followed by Prichard at 6.5% and Bessemer at 5.2%.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

9 hours ago

Shelby warns Biden on defense cuts — ‘Military investments in China and Russia … outpace U.S. investment’

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) fired his own warning shots over what he views as an inadequate defense budget proposal from President Joe Biden.

During a full Senate Committee on Appropriations review of Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 Department of Defense budget request, Shelby expressed his concern that the administration’s defense spending plan placed the nation at a disadvantage compared to its adversaries.

“The National Defense Strategy provides a road map for what the Department of Defense needs – at a minimum – to meet the challenges posed by a re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia,” explained Shelby. “Anything less jeopardizes readiness, the recapitalization of capital assets, and necessary investments in new and emerging technologies.”

Shelby, who currently serves as vice chairman of the powerful Senate committee, believes that not meeting current national defense demands sends a dangerous message to the rest of the world.

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“This year, the budget proposal signals to the world that this administration is not committed to investing in readiness, training, state of the art equipment, and technological overmatch,” Shelby stated. “With military investments in China and Russia continuing to outpace U.S. investments, I find it hard to believe that the requirements outlined by General Dunford just four years ago are no longer instructive.”

This critical assessment from Alabama’s senior senator comes less than a month after the highest-ranking U.S. military officer described the nation’s relations with China and Russia as “fraying.”

In an address to graduates of the United States Air Force Academy, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley said, “Right now we are in a great power competition with China and Russia. And we need to keep it at competition and avoid great power conflict.”

Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

Shelby addressed both officials in his remarks, stating, “The world is a complex and dangerous place and I know that you both understand the magnitude of the challenges we face from our near peer adversaries who seek to undermine the United States’ position as a world leader and dominant military power. China and Russia are formidable adversaries and China, as you have acknowledged Secretary Austin, is proving to be a true pacing threat. China seeks hegemony – militarily, technologically, economically, and geopolitically – and is making unprecedented investments to see that to fruition.”

“Meanwhile, Russia is nearing the end of a massive military modernization program that saw its defense spending increase 30 percent in real dollars over the last 10 years,” he added.

Shelby concluded that he could not support an effective cut in defense spending in 2022.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

9 hours ago

U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl urges Biden to undergo tests for ‘mental impairment’

U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) joined 13 of his congressional colleagues in urging President Joe Biden to undergo an examination to determine his mental fitness to serve.

The group cited a string of embarrassing verbal gaffes by the president as the basis for their request.

In a letter sent to Biden on Thursday, the Republican members of Congress explained, “We write to you today to express concern with your current cognitive state. We believe that, regardless of gender, age, or political party, all Presidents should follow the precedent set by former President Donald Trump to document and demonstrate sound mental abilities.”

They continued, “Unfortunately, your mental decline and forgetfulness have become more apparent over the past 18 months. In March, you forgot the name of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and the Defense Secretary, though you had said ‘Secretary Austin’ just a few minutes prior.”

In addition, the letter cites Biden’s telling of an Amtrak story with an inexplicable timeline, forgetting the first line of the Declaration of Independence and obvious disorientation during a visit to Texas as examples for why they believe Biden is in need of cognitive testing.

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The list of gaffes attributable to his mental acuity seems to be piling up for the 46th president.

During the G7 Summit in England recently, he asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to introduce the South African president.

RELATED: Biden lashes out at media member and Alabama native Kaitlan Collins over Putin — ‘You’re in the wrong business’

Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce has questioned whether Biden’s cognitive state is a national security liability.

Biden has received criticism in the early stages of his administration for calling on only a predetermined list of reporters during press conferences. The most recent instance of this occurred while Biden was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Carl and the other letter signers pushed for transparency with any medical assessments being made, as well.

“We encourage you to follow the example set by President Trump by undergoing a cognitive test as soon as possible and immediately making the results available for the American people,” they concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

10 hours ago

ALGOP chair John Wahl: AEA resurgence ‘a concern’; Reminds GOP candidates ‘not a good idea’ accept their campaign contributions

For the first time in nearly a decade, the Alabama Education Association (AEA) seemingly flexed its muscle at the end of the 2021 legislative session by successfully pushing through a two-year delay to the Literacy Act, which mandates children be able to read at a third grade level before proceeding to the fourth grade.

Gov. Kay Ivey vetoed the delay, but it left political watchers wondering if this was just the beginning of the AEA’s return to the forefront of Alabama politics.

During an appearance on FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show” on Thursday, Alabama Republican Party chairman John Wahl said it was indeed a concern for the party.

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“[I]t’s funny you bring that up because at one point in the past, there was actually a resolution passed by the state party, I believe, that was saying Republican candidates should not take money from the AEA because of their influence and the concern they would have over direct policy,” he stated. “So, of course, that’s a concern. That type of influence from anybody pushing to regulate themselves is never — you don’t want a group regulating themselves. That’s not good for policy.”

While there was a resolution in place that pertained to AEA campaign contributions to Republican candidates, Wahl said it was not an outright ban but a “strong recommendation” not to accept their money.

“I need to go back and look at the resolution in-depth,” Wahl said. “But I believe it was a resolution, so it’s not a direct ban. There’s no teeth to it. But it was a very strong recommendation to candidates — that it is not a good idea to take that money.”

“[T]here were jokes about how the AEA controlled the state and had a vast amount of control over policy and what would happen with the Governor’s office, the state legislature,” he explained. “So much of that has gotten better since Republicans have taken control. But you’re right — we’re seeing a resurgence, at least of their involvement. Hopefully not their influence.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.