Editorial: Congress needs to OK Thomson prison sale to feds

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted8/22/2012 9:22 AM

In this ultra-divisive era of national politics, we have applauded those occasions when our Illinois delegation in Congress has banded together to work for the common good of Illinois citizens.

Whether it's Democrat Dick Durbin and his staff working to help out ailing Sen. Mark Kirk or Republican Kirk working in tandem with Durbin on O'Hare modernization or protecting the Great Lakes, when we see signs of bipartisanship, we like to celebrate it.


Such is the case with the potential federal purchase of the unused state-owned Thomson Correction Center. Both Democrats and Republicans in Illinois (including GOP Rep. Donald Manzullo) support the sale of the prison because they say it could create 1,100 jobs in northwestern Illinois and give our financially ailing state a $165 million boost. It also would ease overcrowding at other federal prisons.

But the bipartisanship ends at the Illinois border. And so, while we give kudos to our in-state pols working to get this deal done, we must take to task the one man in Congress who won't let it happen -- Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican.

Virginia? Why does he care about an unused prison in Illinois? Because, he admits, he doesn't trust President Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder. He also says, as chair of a key subcommittee that needs to sign off on the deal, he can't approve of an earmark for a particular project.

It's true the budget proposed by the president doesn't include the money to buy Thomson. But as The Associated Press pointed out in a story this week on the issue, the money would come from within current spending levels and so some argue it's not an improper earmark as Wolf claims.

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"It's a bit of a stretch to say this is an earmark ... but given how unpopular earmarks are, it's smart politics," said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group. "That's probably not a legitimate reason to block moving the funds."

We agree, given how positive the sale would be for the state and for job creation in an area that desperately needs new jobs.

The real reason this is getting held up is because Wolf thinks terrorism suspects from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba may end up at Thomson or somewhere else in the country, despite Obama administration promises to the contrary.

"Frankly, I do not have any confidence that the department or the administration will enforce the law forbidding the transfer of Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States," Wolf wrote in a letter to Durbin, citing previous efforts by the administration to bring Guantanamo prisoners to the U.S.

It's wrong for Wolf to block this deal. It's such a waste that a prison built in 2001 and never used will stay empty because of this congressman's decidedly partisan way of thinking. We urge Illinois Republicans to do what they can to convince him otherwise.

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