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 Saturday, May 25, the 145th day of 2013. There are 220 days left in the year. 1863 -- 150 years ago: The annual review of the fire department of this city took placeyesterday and made a fine showing with machines and hose carts in tip-top order. 1888 -- 125 years ago: Last night's prayer meeting at Central Presbyterian Church wascalled off due to water in the basement, residue of last week's flood. 1913 -- 100 years ago: The junior class of Rock Island High School will hold a riverexcursion on the steamer St. Paul next Tuesday. 1938 -- 75 years ago: The 75th Anniversary of the Rock Island Arsenal today finds thenation's largest ordinance manufacturing plant filling many important orders for the army. 1963 -- 50 years ago: Miss Patrice Daly, Rock Island, a senior at Rock Island HighSchool, won second place in the recent state public speaking contest held in Peoria underthe auspices of the Knights of Pythias. 1988 -- 25 years ago: Hampton's sesquicentennial committee and the Hampton HistoricalSociety have scheduled a full slate of activities, which will be held throughout the year, to celebrate the village's 150th birthday. The first celebration will be the Memorial Dayprogram at 10 a.m. May 30, at the Brettun and Black Store Museum on River Road. Therewill be a sesquicentennial display.