THOMSON PRISON SOLD TO FEDS
Though Illinois’ overcrowded prison system continues to be a public safety issue, Governor Pat Quinn announced October 2 that the Thomson Correctional Center had been sold to the federal government for $165 million.
In 2009, the prison was valued at $220 million, nearly $60 million more than what Illinois received from the federal government. The state originally spent $145 million to build the prison, not including interest on the borrowing used to finance the construction.
The Governor indicated the money would go to pay the state’s outstanding bills, which total about $8 billion. He has also indicated a portion of the proceeds may go to bond payments and expressed an interest in working with legislators to allocate funds from the sale.
The good news is that more than 1,100 jobs are expected to be created as a result of the federal takeover of the state prison, which has been underused since it was constructed in 2001.
However, questions have been raised about the purchase process due to state laws regulating the sale of public property, including what portion of the $165 million sale price must be used to pay off the state bonds used to finance the original construction costs. Illinois taxpayers could also be on the hook for interest on the costs to finance the prison, an amount that exceeds $50 million to date. That amount was originally scheduled to approach $100 million by the time the state bonds are paid off.
The purchase, which has been in the works for several years, was not approved by the U.S. House of Representatives, which constitutionally has the responsibility of authorizing spending. Soon after the sale was announced, Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who chairs a House subcommittee overseeing the sale, blasted the deal, accusing the Obama Administration of circumventing Congress.
Congressman Wolf has said he is concerned the federal government would move terror suspects from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to Thomson. When the plan for a federal takeover was first announced nearly three years ago, the Obama Administration readily acknowledged that the prison would be used to house terrorism suspects, but has since backed away from that plan. Additionally, federal law now prohibits such a move.
AFSCME SUES QUINN OVER PRISON CLOSURES
Meanwhile, Governor Quinn continues his efforts to shutter a number of other state prisons, which is at the core of a dispute between his office and the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union. In fact, AFSCME is currently suing to block Quinn’s plans to shut down the correctional facilities.
According to the union’s complaint, the Governor wants to shutter seven state prisons, including the super-maximum-security prison near Tamms and a women’s prison in Dwight. The union is also suing to keep open adult transition centers in Decatur, Carbondale and Chicago and youth prisons in Joliet and Murphysboro.
The union’s suit states, “Many of the inmates that will be moved are those who have been intentionally segregated in the correctional system because of the danger they pose to guards and to other inmates. Almost a thousand maximum-security female inmates will be moved, and several hundred maximum-security youth will be moved as well. The insertion of these inmates into the overcrowded prisons of the state will inevitably foment unrest that will put employees, other inmates and the general community at risk.”
Many are also concerned by Associated Press reports that, as the state shuts down the Tamms prison and transfers prisoners to the Pontiac Correctional Center, procedures for handling the prisoners have been eased, despite earlier pledges to lawmakers that no changes in procedures or policies would take place when the prisoners are transferred.
According to the Associated Press, “...the rules now in place mean fewer officers and fewer chains on inmates when they’re out of their cells...”
In addition, because of the additional inmates from Tamms, some prisoners previously in isolation at Pontiac are being moved into cells with other prisoners.
ILLINOIS DEBT AT $21,607 PER CITIZEN
A new study by the nonpartisan research group, State Budget Solutions, shows that years of massive overspending and borrowing by Illinois’ Democrat leaders means dire financial consequences for the people they were elected to serve. Illinois now has $271 billion worth of total state debt, which will cost $21,607 from every Illinois citizen to pay off.
The report, which examined the debt accumulated by all 50 states, says Illinois has the fifth highest debt-per-person and the fourth highest total debt.
State Budget Solutions says Illinois’ pension liabilities—which amount to 70 percent of the total debt, or about $192 billion—are a driving force behind the state’s surging debt.
MCCORMICK PLACE SECURES TWO LARGE SHOWS
Changes at McCormick Place in Chicago are being praised by trade show organizers and participants, the City of Chicago and state leaders. The reforms that eased stringent labor rules at the facility have helped secure ongoing commitments from two of the country’s largest and most prestigious trade shows.
The National Restaurant Association and Hotel-Motel Show has signed up for another five years at the convention center, and is expected to produce more than $600 million each year in direct expenditures. Additionally, 1,650 union members will be put to work annually as a result of the extension.
The City of Chicago also locked in a two-year commitment from the International Manufacturing Technology Show, which is projected to bring in direct spending topping $346 million and employ 2,000 union positions.
In 2010, the Legislature passed bipartisan legislation to ease stringent labor rules at McCormick Place after high labor costs resulted in several conventions leaving Illinois for more cost-effective locations. However, legal challenges placed the 2010 labor changes in jeopardy.
In response, lawmakers, the Governor and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel worked with labor unions to negotiate a compromise settlement that satisfied the legal concerns surrounding the work rules. On October 21, 2011, it was announced that an agreement on labor rules at McCormick Place had been reached with the Teamsters and carpenters labor unions, and during the Fall 2011 Veto Session final reforms to work rules at McCormick Place convention center and exhibition facility were approved and quickly signed into law.
The work rule changes have kept McCormick Place as a competitive option in the convention circuit, stacking up against the other well-known convention towns of Orlando, Las Vegas and Atlanta.
As an economic engine for Chicago and the state, the trade shows create local jobs and bring in tourism dollars and sales tax revenues. Mayor Emanuel noted the conventions at McCormick Place are responsible for an estimated 85,000 jobs in the area.
AROUND THE DISTRICT
On October 2, I toured Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Lincoln with CEO Dolan Dalpoas. The hospital was honored recently for 75 years as a member of the American Hospital Association.
Later that day, I attended the Illinois Municipal League’s legislative communication outreach meeting with Representatives Rich Brauer of Petersburg and Keith Sommer of Morton.