Last fall, the Alabama Legislature passed a so-called comprehensive prison construction plan, a step in resolving alleged Eighth Amendment issues facing the state's prison system under the scrutiny of the Biden Department of Justice.
During a special session initiated by Gov. Kay Ivey, both the House and the Senate voted to pass legislation to replace and renovate Department of Corrections facilities under a bipartisan agreement signed into law by Ivey.
The $1.3 billion plan was financed by a bond issuance of $785 million, $400 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed by Congress for COVID-19 relief in 2021 and $154 million from the state's General Fund budget.
To expedite construction, the state announced it was bypassing the traditional bid process and awarding the prison construction contracts to Birmingham-based contractor BL Harbert International and Montgomery-based Caddell Construction.
During an appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show" on Wednesday, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Lindy Blanchard said she took issue with the use of COVID-19 relief money for a contract that was not awarded through a process with multiple bids.
Blanchard suggested Ivey should have used ARPA funds to incentivize the revival of businesses that failed during the 2020 COVID-19 shutdown.
"She should be creating with all of the COVID money different types of incentives," Blanchard said. "Instead, she is using, I believe, $400 million of our COVID relief money, putting it towards the prisons. So, you know, she's not traveling the state, listening to people. She's traveling the state, doing what we call cameo appearances here and there and not listening to the people, and understanding that the people are suffering. We're trying to decide, do I fill up my grocery buggy this week, or do I fill up my gas tank? So, she just needs to start listening to the people while she's out. And certainly, I know the people don't want $400 million spent on a prison that actually is a one-bid prison, mega-prison.
"It will [come up more] when people see that $400 million could have gone to some type of relief for the small businesses that have failed during this COVID."
When asked about how she would have handled the prison situation differently, Blanchard insisted there could have been multiple bids taken by the state and suggested there was a "pay-to-play" situation underway with the awarding of the construction contracts.
"I will tell you as a businesswoman, certainly not taking one bid," Blanchard replied. "And certainly not letting it go to that length of time that you have federal government getting involved. Once again, you need to handle the business in your state before it goes to that extreme. Certainly, she had six years to handle that business and didn't. Then it was an emergency situation. I don't think that was handled well with the one bid. I mean, we know from the get-go that the taxpayers' money is not spent well when there is only a one-bid process.
"I'll tell you, as a businessperson, if somebody came to me and said we need a bid within one week, and I would get that bid pulled together on anything with all my might. So, I'm saying as a businessperson, she could have reached out to three other, at least, contractors and said, 'We need a quick bid right away.' And more transparency -- it was just not a good process that was done. And there's always going to be excuses for doing the wrong thing when you're a padded-pocket government that has been working for years with people who are pay-to-play -- paying Tom, Dick and Harry back for favors."
Blanchard said everything to her is 'follow the money' and that she would love to jump in and roll up her sleeves and look at contracts to see who was going to profit the most.
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