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The politics behind the snafu

Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012

* 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.

Just sayin…

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Spliff - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 10:53 am:

    The Governor is not legally allowed to take less than the average of the appraisals of the property. If the GA wants to change that law then it could happen.

  2. - bored now - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 10:54 am:

    mark kirk is (well enough to be) able to intervene w members of the other chamber???

  3. - lincolnlover - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 10:59 am:

    There are laws that dictate how much the state can pay and how much it can sell its property for, just because of ridiculous stuff like this. Unless there is some very fine fiddlin’ with the appraisals, Quinn really can’t do much about it.

  4. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:02 am:

    Even though I often hate DC politics, I don’t think Schilling should be pilloried for trying to find savings. The feds are terrible at never trying to save money and cost overruns and overpaying for purchases and services is common in every agency. I give Schilling credit for trying to save taxpayers nearly $100 million when the feds will also be footing the bill for the BOP staffers’ pay, benefits and retirement as well as the added security that comes with the operation of such a facility.

  5. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:03 am:

    Seems like a Democratic majority in the House is the answer.

  6. - Liberty First - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:09 am:

    Why would you call Wolf a goofball? That just shows your biases. Ask any government employee how secure law and promises are….

  7. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    “mark kirk is (well enough to be) able to intervene w members of the other chamber???”

    In a one week period, a newspaper in Alaska reported that Kirk has been providing regular updates on his health via twitter, and WBEZ reported that a “a rare update on the senator’s health expected ’soon’.”

    Regarding the former, Alaska must not have access to Twitter, or didn’t bother to check. In the WBEZ item, Elk reassures everyone that Kirk “remains actively engaged in advancing the interests of Illinois residents while working to regain his mobility.”

    I can hardly wait to hear about how he’s been “advancing the interest of Illinois residents” all this time.

  8. - walkinfool - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:21 am:

    Wolf’s a “goofball” if his primary concern is not moving Gitmo detainees, since that’s off the table, and represents little risk in any case.

    If his concern is Federal spending, OK maybe. I wonder what Wolf would do if this were a Virginia deal.

  9. - Chris - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:26 am:

    “Why would you call Wolf a goofball?”

    Because his stated reason for opposing the purchase is his suspicion that Obama will simply break the law to do something that Obama says he no longer supports.

    It’s akin to refusing to support Rand Paul because he might try to make Aqua Buddhism the state religion.

  10. - Bigtwich - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 11:44 am:

    Another strategy would be to vote against all Illinois Republican Congress people in an attempt to deprive Rep Wolf of his chair. That has a better chance of working, though it is not much of a chance.

  11. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 12:29 pm:

    Looks like a case of priorities. Unfortunately for Illinois, the feds don’t want or need the prison as bad as Illinois wants to sell it.

  12. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 12:48 pm:

    –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..–

    Ergo, the goofball statement.

  13. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:03 pm:

    Team Sleep:

    Your logic is moronic. Save the taxpayers money? Yes, by screwing over the taxpayers of Illinois. Brilliant!!

  14. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:06 pm:

    The investment in Thomson is a sunk cost. If the Administration is truly not going to be able to utilize it because of inability to come up with funds for operating costs (and with the current closings taking place for financial reasons that seems a fair bet), then whatever we can get out of it is better than it’s current status.

  15. - mokenavince - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:23 pm:

    Wolf has been around for a long time,another reason for term limits.

  16. - well... - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:25 pm:

    Maybe going forward the state of Illinois will only build and maintain things it can afford and then they won’t be dependent on further tax increases or Washington DC to bail them out for their mistakes. Then these situations become non-issues.

  17. - Former State Employee - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:29 pm:

    Make that two goofballs…..Wolf and Schilling for suggesting it.

  18. - Grimace - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:50 pm:

    “Maybe going forward the state of Illinois will only build and maintain things it can afford and then they won’t be dependent on further tax increases or Washington DC to bail them out for their mistakes.”

    Nah…I think voting out the Republicans (the party of ‘no’) is a better solution.

  19. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    @Schnorf -

    Except that I believe that Thomson CAN be operated much more cost-efficiently than other prisons…it is one of our newest.

    So, if Congressional Republicans don’t want to buy it, fine. Close more prisons in Republican Congressional districts and transfer them to Thompson.

  20. - well... - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 2:14 pm:

    “Nah…I think voting out the Republicans (the party of ‘no’) is a better solution.”

    Sometime “no” is the right answer. When a parent, who is struggling to make ends meet, takes their kids to the store and the kids beg for snacks and toys then a parent should probably say “no, we can’t afford it”. Some parents would put their childrens wants on credit in hopes that they can afford it sometime down the road instead of making the tough decision right then and there.

    It seems like there is a lesson for government on both the state and federal level in this little scenario.

  21. - Mad man - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 3:16 pm:

    DC Goofball. Are you referring to Durbin or WolF?
    Because they both seem to be obstructing this deal.

  22. - Anon - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 3:16 pm:

    I agree with Congressman Wolf. The Obama administration has shown a willingness to sidestep Congress through executive action.

  23. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 3:26 pm:

    ===The Obama administration has shown a willingness to sidestep Congress through executive action. ===

    You should have added: “as has every president in US history.”

  24. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 3:50 pm:

    Gee, Demoralized - unless you don’t pay federal taxes, then any money spent by the BOP to either purchase or build a prison is either constituted of taxes we all pay or debt we have borrowed (or both).

  25. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 4:16 pm:

    Gee Team Sleep - only the taxpayers of Illinois built the prison so expecting sufficient payment from the federal government is not asking too much. See how that works . . . . we would be getting some of the tax money we spent back. I’ll try to go slower for you next time so you can understand.

  26. - steve schnorf - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 4:21 pm:

    Dog, as I suspect it can also, since it’s newer. But, that approach increases the Governor’s problem, doesn’t it? He now has to put a few hundred people out of work and harm another community in order to open Thompson.

    If we can afford to open it we should, because of overcrowding, but as a net addition, not as a replacement. However, I think we can’t afford to open it.

  27. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 4:40 pm:

    ==only the taxpayers of Illinois built the prison so expecting sufficient payment from the federal government is not asking too much==

    Where does the federal government actually get its money “for sufficient payment”, Demoralized? (Taxpayers maybe?)

  28. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 4:54 pm:

    If an investor on the next block built an office building five years ago with a sunk cost of $800,000 which he planned either to use himself or to sell for a million dollars– and today, after sitting vacant and deteriorating in a limited market, someone finally offers him $300,000 should he take it? Is its worth on the market one million, $800,000, or 300,000? Listen to Schnorf.

  29. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 6:31 pm:

    Just like the sunk costs of Mid America airport and the expenditures for an unwanted airport that JJJr has been pushing.

    Money is spent never allowing the taxpayers to see a return.

  30. - hisgirlfriday - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 9:08 pm:

    Would be nice if our state delegation was more loyal to us Illinois taxpayers than their political parties.

  31. - redrum - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 9:12 pm:

    Schilling is once again “baiting and switching” voters in a feable attempt to turn their attention from his lack of ability to get the job done. Why doesn’t Schilling just walk over to his House colleague and ask him to get his foot off the taxpayers of the 17th District’s neck? The reason, Schilling is all talk and no go! Robert Dale Schilling is one and done! Bustos is a better choice.

  32. - Quinn T. Sential - Tuesday, Jul 24, 12 @ 9:42 pm:

    How about the snafu of 8 Democrat candidates for the Will county Board being kicked off the November ballot?


  33. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 12:03 am:

    Demoralized: first, I don’t appreciate the insult. I was trying to be facetious. You were just being curt. I’ve always thought we are above such shenanigans on this site. Second, the state isn’t using Thomson and it’s just sitting there. If the BOP offers $75 million during an awful budget crunch that will force the closure of state facilities and the layoff of state employees, then Governor Quinn needs to lobby the GA to take this issue up during either the upcoming special or veto sessions. This isn’t some vacant building in downtown Springfield that isn’t appealing to a private purchaser. This is a massive prison that is obviously never going to be used by the IDOC and is just waiting for a use.

  34. - Newsclown - Wednesday, Jul 25, 12 @ 8:02 am:

    From what I get out of reading between the lines, this is totally about the Presidential election and the House majority in Washington finding ways to mess with Obama thru any proxy the republican right can find. If they can mess with Illinois and hurt the President’s home state, to shame him or turn voters away from him, that’s what they are going to do. Gitmo and anything else are just the official excuses.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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