The Pragmatic Sophist


Rick Sorrels

McNeil Island, McCleary, and an impending tax avalanche

Washington state is in violation of a reversionary clause in the 1984 deed that transferred McNeil Island from Federal ownership to state ownership.

The deed required that the property be “maintained as a correctional facility in perpetuity” with ownership reverting back to the United States if violated.

Washington closed its McNeil Island prison in 2011, leaving the State Civil Commitment (SCC) facility on the island. The problem is that the SCC is not a “correctional facility” (a prison), it instead houses persons that have already served their full criminal sentence, but are still held under “civil” statutory provisions indefinitely because they are a “threat to society,” similar to being terminally insane.

At a recent meeting, the spokesperson for the General Services Administration (the agency that “owns” all federal property), said that the Feds have no current intention of reclaiming McNeil Island, but he also later admitted that he was not privy to discussions by higher ups.

Due to budgetary problems, the state has not even funded a study of alternative “public uses” which might allow an amendment of the deed restriction.

An alternative use presented here might be to use the island as a “retreat” for Legislators to where the they could be sequestered every two years to negotiate the state’s biennial budget. They could use the comfortable living accommodations left behind, the existing kitchen staff for the SCC, and the security staff (guards) that would prevent the pesky reporters and constituents from interfering with their important work. The governor might even step in and suspend ferry service for the duration to further eliminate interference.

Seriously, though, a tax avalanche is impending. With the McCleary decision, the Legislature is under order by the Washington Supreme Court to “fix” their failure to perform their primary function of adequately funding public schools. The Supreme Court is upset with the Legislature’s failure to act, and is considering draconian contempt measures.

The Washington Supreme Court recently ruled that persons that emergency room doctors determined are a threat to themselves or others, can no longer be warehoused on an emergency room gurney without treatment or medication waiting indefinitely for bed space that is not available at a mental health facility.

And claimants continue to win huge damage awards from juries (the jury lottery) for DHSH’s failure to prevent abuse by caregivers and foster homes, with the budget cuts they must already manage under.

Fixing McCleary, alone, will take billions of dollars, plus more for annual maintenance. All this additional funding cannot come from thin air, and it cannot be taken from courts, police, prisons, or anything else –– the shortage is far too big. The only other source is the taxpayers’ pocket.

The Legislators hope the economy will recover to solve their problems, but the economy is refusing, and the numbers are to far too big. Partisan politics make matters worse.

“Sequestering” the Legislators is an interesting thought, but only a pipe dream.

We do indeed live in the proverbial interesting times.