Does North Dakota Need To Spend $85 Million On The State Pen?

Interesting report from KXMB in Bismarck about the political battle brewing over North Dakota’s state penitentiary. Governor Hoeven and some of his fellow Republicans want to put $42 million into tearing down parts of the prison and rebuilding. The Democrats, as you might expect, aren’t so sure this is a good idea. And this time around I’m not so sure I disagree with them.


First, a moment of extreme irony (given the content of the rest of this post) as state Sen. Bob Stenehjem is identified in the report as a Bismarck Democrat. Good broadcasting, guys. It’s not like he’s the Senate Majority Leader or anything.
Anyway, I think the most interesting quote in the entire report is this one from Warden Tim Schuetzle:

Rather than spending a lot of money on buildings that we may not need that are still useable, if they want to do something about the prison problem, lets put that money where it can do more good – programs for inmates and pay for staff.

I don’t know Mr. Schuetzle or his politics, but I do know government bureaucrats. And it’s not often a bureaucrat like Schuetzle is going to speak against investing tens of millions of dollars in his facilities. If Warden Schuetzle is saying these new buildings aren’t necessary, or at least not a very high priority, then why are we spending the money?
I think I know the answer to that question. It’s a painful thing for conservative North Dakotans to admit, and it has to do with this line from an op/ed written by Senate Majority Leader Stenehjem and his counterpart in the House Rick Berg:

The state’s budget is stronger than ever, which allows us to increase funding at record levels across the board.

North Dakota’s Republicans are essentially spending money because they have money. These upgrades to the state pen aren’t needed, they shockingly aren’t even being called for by the bureaucrats in charge of the prison, but the Republicans are hell bent on spending the money anyway. Again because they have it, I guess, and spending it is better than giving it back to those who paid it in.
Update: Just to clarify some things above (I shouldn’t be posting at 2:00am), the $42 million is what Governor Hoeven included in his budget. The $85 million is what Hoeven and Republicans want to spend over and above that to build new facilities at the state pen. It is the $85 million the Dems, and the warden, oppose.

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