U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd (D-WVA) is using federal dollars to build prisons that benefit his state’s economy. The Charleston Daily Mail says Byrd is hopeful the $126 million he secured this week for West Virginia federal prison sites won’t face threats from the Bush administration. Last year, the administration threatened to cancel millions in construction funds, including $142 million for a new medium-security prison in McDowell County, W.Va. The proposed Justice Department appropriation is $2 billion above the president’s budget request. “The president said he’d veto any bill that goes over his budget, but we don’t think it grossly goes over that budget,” said a Byrd spokeswoman. “We’re splitting hairs here.”
Local officials and Byrd’s staff say eliminating the prison-building funds could be detrimental to rural economies in the state. Preston County Commission President Dave Price, citing a prison in Hazelton, said, “Small businesses like restaurants and service stations have seen a positive impact. All in all, people are happy with it and there’s very little negative.” The Hazelton facility, which employs 350, is a high-security institution with 1,088 beds. It opened in 2005 and cost $148 million to build. In each of three counties where federal prisons have been located in the last decade – Raleigh, Gilmer and Preston – the U.S. Justice Department is among the top 10 employers.