BAILOUT TO STATE BUDGETS: AZ Uses Housing Settlement Money for Prisons

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Editor’s Comment:

The general consensus is that the homeowner borrowers are simply at the bottom of the food chain, not worthy of dignity, respect or any assistance to recover from the harm caused by Wall Street. Now small as it is, the banks have partially settled the matter by an agreement that bars the states from pursuing certain types of claims conditioned on several terms, one of which was the payment of money from the banks that presumably would be used to fund programs for the beleaguered homeowners without whose purchasing power, the economy is simply not going to revive. Not only are many states taking the money and simply putting it into general funds, but Arizona, over the objection of its own Attorney General is taking the money and applying to pay for prison expenses.

Here is the sad punch line for Arizona. The prison system in that state and others is largely “privatized” which is to say that the state “hired” new private companies created for the sole purpose of earning a profit off the imprisonment of the state’s citizens. Rumors abound that the current governor has a financial interest in the largest private prison company.

The prison lobby has been hard at work ever since privatizing prisons became the new way to get rich using taxpayers dollars. Not only are we paying more to house more prisoners because the laws a restructured to make more behavior crimes, but now our part of the housing settlement is also going to the prisons. Another bailout that was never needed or wanted. Meanwhile the budget of  Arizona continues to rise from incarcerating its citizens and the profiteers (not entrepreneurs by any stretch of the imagination) are getting a gift of more money from the state out of the multistate settlement.

Needy States Use Housing Aid Cash to Plug Budgets

By SHAILA DEWAN

Only 27 states have devoted all their funds from the banks to housing programs, according to a report by Enterprise Community Partners, a national affordable housing group. So far about 15 states have said they will use all or most of the money for other purposes.

In Texas, $125 million went straight to the general fund. Missouri will use its $40 million to soften cuts to higher education. Indiana is spending more than half its allotment to pay energy bills for low-income families, while Virginia will use most of its $67 million to help revenue-starved local governments.

Like California, some other states with outsize problems from the housing bust are spending the money for something other than homeowner relief. Georgia, where home prices are still falling, will use its $99 million to lure companies to the state.

“The governor has decided to use the discretionary money for economic development,” said a spokesman for Nathan Deal, Georgia’s governor, a Republican. “He believes that the best way to prevent foreclosures amongst honest homeowners who have experienced hard times is to create jobs here in our state.”

Andy Schneggenburger, the executive director of the Atlanta Housing Association of Neighborhood-Based Developers, said the decision showed “a real lack of comprehension of the depths of the foreclosure problem.”

The $2.5 billion was intended to be under the control of the state attorneys general, who negotiated the settlement with the five banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Ally. But there is enough wiggle room in the agreement, as well as in separate terms agreed to by each state, to give legislatures and governors wide latitude. The money can, for example, be counted as a “civil penalty” won by the state, and some leaders have argued that states are entitled to the money because the housing crash decimated tax collections.

Shaun Donovan, the federal housing secretary, has been privately urging state officials to spend the money as intended. “Other uses fail to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the settlement to bring real, concerted relief to homeowners and the communities in which they live,” he said Tuesday.

Some attorneys general have complied quietly with requests to repurpose the money, while others have protested. Lisa Madigan, the Democratic attorney general of Illinois, said she would oppose any effort to divert the funds. Tom Horne, the Republican attorney general of Arizona, said he disagreed with the state’s move to take about half its $97 million, which officials initially said was needed for prisons.

But Mr. Horne said he would not oppose the shift because the governor and the Legislature had authority over budgetary matters. The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest has said it will sue to stop Mr. Horne from transferring the money.


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