Pulling political rabbits out of hat can be trouble

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Gov. Ronnie Musgrove seems to be a consummate political performer and magician. Each time the state seems in dire financial crisis, he miraculously reaches into his secret hat and pulls out another previously hidden rabbit. The latest surprise hare leapt from nowhere and landed squarely on the doorstep of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

This time the rabbit easily could have bitten the state in the rear.

Last week, Musgrove announced plans to renegotiate the state’s contract with three companies that operate private prisons in the state. The move came after MDOC Commissioner Robert Johnson sent letters to each of the private prison companies declaring the state had no money to pay them beginning July 1.

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At that point the private prison companies could have simply announced plans to shut down, pull out and ship all of their inmates to state run facilities. The sudden shift would have instantly increased occupancy of the state’s own prisons &045;&045; a move which could hurt if suddenly Mississippi has nowhere to house its inmates.

The sudden announcement by Musgrove reeks of politics. Musgrove estimates reworking the contracts will save the state between $6 million and $12 million each year. Of course, he wouldn’t be in a position to be such a hero if the state’s budget was in better shape.

In case anyone has forgotten, Musgrove tried to exercise a line-item veto a few months back. He tried to cut $54.7 million in private prison funding from a larger state corrections bill passed by the Legislature. Attorney General Mike Moore contends Musgrove has no such authority, nullifying the line-item veto. Which helped start the whole mess.

Saving the state’s money is always a good thing, but doing so on a wild &uot;hare&uot; can be dangerous. Eventually the rabbit will bite.