Kansas Governor Sam Brownback abruptly postponed a meeting Thursday where lawmakers were expected to approve or reject a plan for a private contractor to rebuild the state prison in Lansing. Consideration of the proposal was already pushed off earlier this month. The additional delay raises questions that the project may not have enough support in the State Finance Council to advance.
A spokesperson for the governor, Kendall Marr, said the delay would allow for more information gathering.
“There are some questions that still need to be answered," Marr said. "I know a lot of legislators still have questions on the Lansing prison project and we’re going to seek to get those answered here in the next few days."
Marr didn’t say when the State Finance Council would next meet to consider the proposal, but he said the project is not dead.
Under the proposal negotiated by the Brownback administration, the state would pay about $360 million over 20 years to lease the new prison from contractor CoreCivic. At the end of the lease the state would own the facility.
The Department of Corrections says a new prison would require fewer staff. The savings from the more efficient design would be used to pay for the lease.
Some lawmakers have raised concerns about the plan being negotiated behind closed doors and questioned whether the cost estimates for the prison are realistic.
The delay could potentially raise the cost of replacing the aging correctional facility. CoreCivic’s CEO Damon Hininger has said further delays of the approval could create challenges.
The top Democrat in the Senate, Anthony Hensley, said the cancellation of Thursday’s State Finance Council meeting was not about the administration giving lawmakers time to ask questions.
“They didn’t have the votes. It’s as simple as that. That’s why we didn’t meet,” Hensley said.
The Finance Council is made up of the governor and eight legislative leaders. If that panel rejects the Lansing prison plan, then the full Legislature could consider the issue.
Parts of the Lansing prison are more than 150 years old and take more staff to operate than a new facility.
“The structure’s old and smells," Governor Brownback said this week. "But more than that, it’s not structured for a modern prison.”
Some lawmakers that agree the state should consider building a new prison are still wary of the plan presented by the governor.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.