By Erich R. Ebel
OLYMPIA… During an emergency six-hour special session today Washington lawmakers approved three measures designed to address the state’s budget gap; however, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, voted against the budget bill because it would essentially throw away $130 million in taxpayer money by abandoning the McNeil Island Correctional Center.
“I’ve had more than forty people contact my office in just the last week who are livid that the state sees that investment as disposable,” Carrell said, referring to the $130 million spent by the Department of Corrections in recent years to upgrade the prison. “When I found out this proposal would abandon the prison – not just mothball it – I started asking to see the numbers that prove it will be a cost-saving measure. What I found is that DOC intends to build a new prison sometime in the next five years at a cost of 250 million dollars, but is willing to ignore the 130 million dollars in improvements to McNeil Island. I don’t think the taxpayers of this state would view their tax money the same way, and that’s why I voted against the special session budget bill today.”
Carrell argued that while many of the suggested changes to the budget need to be made, the relatively small amount of money ($1.6 million) in assumed savings from closing McNeil just doesn’t add up considering it means throwing away $130 million.
“I still find it unbelievable that the state is willing to accept a 130 million-dollar loss of taxpayer money,” Carrell said. “In the past two decades, the state has constructed a series of pods for McNeil inmates that seem to be well maintained. To let them fall into such ruin that the only use it could serve would be to harbor and enhance the local bat population would be an incredible waste of money.”
He added that the argument for closing the prison because of its location on an island also doesn’t hold any water because the state intends to continue spending the same amount of money housing dangerous sex predators at the Special Commitment Center on the island. That, Carrell says, will still require a state-funded ferry service to and from the island as well as facilities crews such as firefighters, garbage collectors and other maintenance workers.
“The people of my district disagree with the state wholeheartedly,” Carrell added. “At a time when people are losing their jobs, the thought of allowing one prison to fall into ruin while spending hundreds of millions on a new one is unconscionable. Taxpayers are simply not going to understand how this makes any sense, especially with the need for the same prison capacity in five short years.”