San Quentin: Cash-Strapped California to Spend $356M to Upgrade Death Row

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"This project is already plagued by excessive cost overruns and difficult staffing conditions," the letter read, "no alternative uses for the site have ever been analyzed and discussed publicly and the State's current financial condition calls into question the prudence of moving forward at this time."

Both the Sacramento Bee and the Stockton Record newspapers have run editorials against the proposal.

The Bee editorial accuses Schwarzenegger of having a "twisted sense of timing," and says the governor "needs to reconsider his priorities and focus on what is truly important as his time as governor ends."

The Stockton Record called dipping into the general fund "ludicrous" and the entire project "loony."

San Quentin Remodeling: Will Spending Money Now Save Money Later?

The project will be done in two construction phases. The first, for which the bids will be opened next week, will include the demolition of the current site and the construction of the housing units and guard towers. The second, to go out to bid in 2011, will see the support buildings and security systems go up.

Scheduled for completion in 2013, the new death row would have 1,152 beds in 768 cells. There would be two condemned inmates per cell, something done in other states that has met opposition in California.

Palmer insists that by moving forward now, the state will save millions in bid reductions and interest payments.

But in an August weekly radio address on the need for long-term budget reform, Schwarzenegger said he was "fighting for lower taxes, no borrowing, less spending."

"It's always about should we cut spending and live within our means, or raise taxes," he said.

Palmer said the only reason the state turned to the general fund to finance the first year of costs is that the legal skirmishes have blocked the state's ability to sell bonds to finance the San Quentin project properly.

"We think we're going to prevail in the case," Palmer said, adding that the state would sell bonds next year to cover what it took from its so-called rainy day fund. "It's not like the general fund is out forever on this."

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