* This story seemed a bit odd when it broke earlier in the month…
Several Illinois congressmen are asking Gov. Pat Quinn to consider taking less money from the federal government for the purchase of the Thomson Correctional Center, located just north of Thomson, Ill.
Ten Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Bobby Schilling, made the request in a letter to Quinn last Friday.
Saying a federally owned Thomson would add more than 1,100 jobs to an economically hard-hit area northeast of the Quad-Cities, the congressmen encouraged Quinn to “seriously consider all the positive aspects of lowering the price to what has been paid so that it can be quickly brought into the federal correctional system and opened.”
Illinois built the prison for $140 million in 2001, and it has paid $128 million of the cost thus far, according to the governor’s office. An appraisal valued the facility at $220 million, however, and Quinn said Saturday there’s already an agreement on a price at $165 million.
* Here’s some more background on the sale snafu…
It also involves Rep. Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, a powerful veteran Republican who chairs a House subcommittee that oversees prison spending. Wolf opposes the prison purchase because of fears that the Obama White House wants to move detainees there from Cuba despite a law against it and assurances by administration officials.
The latest assurance against moving potential terrorists to Thomson came June 14, when Attorney General Eric Holder testified before a Senate panel. But Holder, whose Department of Justice oversees the federal Bureau of Prisons, also has been labeled untrustworthy by House Republicans who last week voted to hold him in contempt over the failed Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
Asked if a lower price tag for Thomson would ensure Wolf’s support, Schilling spokeswoman Andrea Pivarunas said, “There are different people and many factors involved in getting this done.”
As for a suggested price, Pivarunas said the Bureau of Prisons told Schilling’s office it has about $75 million in leftover money in its budget.
But the prisons bureau also has found $165 million to purchase Thomson from funds that could be rechanneled from other programs, meeting the terms of the deal struck by the state and federal governments that Wolf has blocked.
* The key here is that the federal Bureau of Prisons could tap that $75 million without going to Congressman Wolf. Paying the agreed upon price means continuing to deal with the guy. And that means that nothing gets done before the election. The Dispatch-Argus is not at all happy with Schilling’s idea…
Rep. Wolf’s intransigence has Rep. Schilling and other GOP members of Illinois congressional delegation scrambling for another way. They think they’ve found it. We urge them to keep looking.
“The way to get around Frank Wolf is to not have to go to him for the money,” he told reporter Eric Timmons. In order to do that, however, the state must significantly reduce it’s asking price to $75 million. That’s how much Rep. Schilling has found in the Federal Bureau of Prisons fund to make the transfer happen.
While we appreciate the effort, we cannot in good conscience recommend that the state let the prison go for $90 million less than the bargain price of $165 million to which the feds already have agreed. And that price is well below the $220 million the maximum-security prison is said to be worth. Indeed, at $165 million, the prison remains a great deal for a nation in need of more space for federal offenders. The cost of converting it to federal use is a fraction of what is sure to be needed to site and build a new facility.
Rather than pushing the state’s taxpayers into a terrible deal, we urge Rep. Schilling and the rest of the delegation — led, we hope, by Illinois Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk’s office — to amp up the pressure on Rep. Wolf.
Tell him $90 million is too high a price for Illinois to pay to indulge a single congressman’s fear of terrorist bogeymen.
So, the state can go around the DC goofball and get a much lower price, which would also probably help the Republican Schilling’s reelection - and Democratic US Sen. Dick Durbin, who is backing Schilling’s opponent, would never agree to help him like that. Or Illinois could just try to wait out the DC goofball and maybe the feds never buy the prison if Obama isn’t reelected (or even if he is).
Don’t you just love Washington, DC?
Then again, to put this into perspective, that $90 million price difference is about equal to just one year of CME’s new state tax break. And we know new jobs will definitely be created no matter what the sale price ends up being.