Democrats and Republicans, Illinoisans and Iowans … we all agree about the need to open the Thomson prison facility. That's why we are working on a bipartisan basis toward an important goal: developing a bipartisan path to open Thomson as a federal maximum security prison. |
Construction of the maximum security Thomson Correctional Center was completed in 2001 and the facility has remained virtually empty ever since. Back in 2009, President Barack Obama attempted to order the federal government to acquire Thomson to house Guantanamo detainees. However, it is the bipartisan position of Congress that Thomson not be used to house terrorist prisoners and the House Armed Services Committee, on which we both sit, has barred transfer of detainees to the United States.
That debate doesn't change the fact that the federal prison system is overburdened and that our region is missing out on what could be a significant job creation and economic development tool. Put simply, that debate should not stop the purchase of Thomson for use as a federal prison system for federal prisoners.
We Illinoisans and Iowans understand the positive impact that opening Thomson as a federal maximum security prison would have on our entire region. The operation of Thomson would bring good jobs to both Illinois and Iowa, potentially creating up to 1,100 jobs in our region. It would boost the surrounding economy with expenditures over $122 million per year, and is expected to bring approximately $19 million in labor income and $61 million in business sales locally. Total annual local economic impact, both direct and indirect, is expected to be at least $202 million. Meanwhile, its annual operating expenditures, empty, are $122 million per year. The math is clear -- we should open Thomson.
Like far too many things however, what seems to be a commonsense solution to creating jobs, boosting economic development, and providing relief to the overburdened federal prison system has become bogged down in Washington politics and gamesmanship.
At a time when one Washington politician with no ties to the area can hold up a significant economic development tool for an entire region, we strongly believe commonsense and cooler heads must prevail. There has been enough political posturing back in Washington on this issue. It's past time to get to work.
As everyone knows well, this isn't a new issue -- it's been around for 10 years. Neither Republicans nor Democrats were able to solve it when they held both the White House and Congress. Despite recent disappointing setbacks, we remain focused on the economic realities in Illinois and Iowa, and our constituents' need for good jobs.
We are working together to find whatever avenue we can to get the job done for our region. No one says it will be easy; there are many hurdles to overcome on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers of Congress, and at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But the bottom line is we will continue to work together to reach across the divide, find a solution, and bring these jobs to our region.
Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona, represents Congress in the 17th District. Democrat Rep. Dave Loesback represents Iowa's 2nd District.
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