In a Congress made up of of 535 people, just one man stands in the way of converting the shuttered Thomson state prison into a federal facility.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, a Republican lawmaker from a single congressional district in northern Virginia, has determined, all on his own, that the poor, put-upon folks of this northwestern Illinois Mississippi River community cannot have the economic prosperity promised to them more than a decade ago.
That's when then-governor Jim Edgar championed construction of the state-of-the-art Thomson Correctional Center. The state never really used it. The Obama administration wants it. The state wants to sell it. Rep. Wolf says, no.
And this is the guy who recently proclaimed, "With unemployment hovering around 8 percent, Congress must find ways to support job creation." (http://wolf.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=367&itemid=1606)?
Perhaps he should have qualified that with, "When it suits me."
But the sad fact is that the Thomson deal announced in 2009, which would be good for Western Illinois, the state and the nation, is being derailed because the lawmaker from Virginia -- whose state motto, ironically, is "Thus always to tyrants'" -- is unduly worried about things that go bump in the night.
The chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies won't sign off on the $165 million the cash-strapped state is asking for the prison because he fears that Illinois and the nation will be overrun by terrorists if Thomson becomes a federal prison.
Despite clear and repeated assurances to the contrary, he remains sure that Thomson eventually will house suspected terrorists now sequestered at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, D-Colona, believes that the East Coast representative will never change his mind.
Because Rep. Wolf doesn't trust the president, the 1,100 good jobs associated with the federal lockup will not come to the facility just one hour north of the Quad-Cities. When the whims of a single congressman can do so much damage, it's no wonder that Congress' approval rating sits at 15 percent.
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.
Today is Friday, May 24, the 144th day of 2013. There are 221 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: A military escort will be at the square at 9 a.m. tomorrow forthe funeral of Lieut. Joseph Eaton. The county judge is absent in Chicago, which willaccount for his not being in the procession. 1888 -- 125 years ago: Rock Island's City Council last night appropriated $95,000 forexpenses for the 1888 and 1889 fiscal year. 1913 -- 100 years ago: Mrs. F.W. Reimers last night was re-elected president of the RockIsland Musical Club at a meeting in the New Harper Hotel. 1938 -- 75 years ago: Seven members of Boy Scout Troop 21 got their Eagle badges lastnight. They were Ralph Hurt, Robert Nelson, Howard Schersten, Cecil Nelson, RobertFryxell, Clarence Stone and Rollin Hurt. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Mayor Morris Muhleman has resorted to a form letter in an effort toanswer objections to the wheel tax increase. "It was my hope that I could, in some way,restore the faith of the citizens in our city. In order to do this I knew I must face the factthat I would become very unpopular."All they are trying to do is protect the citizensproperty and build their town. 1988 -- 25 years ago: RICCA, the Rock Island County Council on Addictions, inconjunction with the Quad City Downs, will hold its annual "Night at the Races" June 2.The benefit "Night at the Races" will raise funds locally to assist in maintaining the twohalfway houses, New Hope Lodge (for women) and Beacon House (for men).