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Senate Week in Review: Thomson prison sells to federal government, McCormick Place extends lucrative contracts, plus more

A compiled review of Senate activities from the week.

Springfield, Ill. – As the state begins the process of shutting down several correctional facilities, Gov. Pat Quinn this week announced the sale of the Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government, said State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove).

Also this week, the extension of two lucrative trade show contracts at McCormick Place underscore the positive impact of the 2011 labor work rule reforms at the facility, while a new study finds total state debt is increasing—at a cost of $21,607 per Illinois citizen.

Sen. Sandack reminds local residents that Governor Quinn’s Mortgage Relief Project—a key component of the new Illinois Foreclosure Prevention Network (IFPN)—will hold an event at Downers Grove North High School tomorrow, Saturday, October 6th, to help struggling west suburban homeowners take advantage of programs that can help them save their homes from foreclosure.  The free workshops will be held from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. (registration closes at 12 noon) in the cafeteria at Downers Grove North High School, 4436 Main Street, Downers Grove, IL 60515. The free workshops will offer helpful advice about mortgage refinancing, foreclosure prevention, legal rights, credit counseling and avoiding scam artists. Homeowners can also obtain private, one-on-one housing counseling with HUD-certified counselors and are encouraged to bring their latest mortgage documents (bills, statements, notices, etc.), two most recent paystubs, and their state ID or driver’s license.  Please visit Sen. Sandack’s website at www.senatorsandack.com for more information.

Though Illinois’ overcrowded prison system continues to be a public safety issue and a sore spot between Gov. Pat Quinn and state correctional employees, Governor Quinn recently announced the sale of the state’s Thomson Correctional Center to the federal government.

The governor says more than 1,100 jobs will be created as a result of the federal takeover of the state prison, which has been underused since it was constructed in 2001.

The sale price was $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.

At the Oct. 2 news conference announcing the sale, 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.

However, there may be wrinkles in 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 which were 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 okayed 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. 

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.

Meanwhile, the governor has also embarked on his own effort to shutter a number of 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 Gov. 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 the apparently eased security measures for transferred Tamms prisoners highlighted in a new report from the Associated Press. News reports reveal that the state's corrections department is modifying its rules for handling the state's most dangerous prisoners.
                                                                                                                                  
As the state shuts down the Tamms super-maximum security prison and transfers prisoners to the Pontiac Correctional Center, the AP reports that 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.

While the changes within the state’s correctional system continue to prompt concern, changes at McCormick Place in Chicago are receiving applause from 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 was also ecstatic to lock-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.

The conventions have been long-time McCormick Place mainstays, with the restaurant show coming to Chicago annually for 63 years, and the technology manufacturing show taking place in the city every two years for the last 65 years.

President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, Dawn Sweeney, noted that recent bipartisan legislation to ease stringent and costly labor rules at McCormick Place secured the organization’s decision to stay in Chicago.

“Chicago is much more exhibitor-friendly, more hassle-free and more cost-effective as a convention trade-show destination,” said Sweeney during a news conference.

In 2010, the Legislature passed bipartisan legislation to ease stringent labor rules at McPier after high labor costs encouraged several conventions to leave 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 Oct. 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 Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center and exhibition facility (McPier) were approved and quickly signed into law.

The work rule changes have reinforced 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. In fact, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted the conventions at McCormick Place are responsible for an estimated 85,000 jobs in the area.

The promised economic growth and guaranteed jobs will come in handy if a new study by the nonpartisan research group, State Budget Solutions, is any indication. According to the group, 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, behind only a handful of other budget-busting states like California and New York. Altogether, the 50 states have racked up a combined debt of $4.19 trillion, which is a quarter of the $16 trillion national debt accumulated by the federal government.

State Budget Solutions points to rising pension liabilities as the driving force behind Illinois’ surging debt. Here in the Land of Lincoln, pension liabilities now amounts to 70 percent of the total debt, or about $192 billion according to the group.

On Friday, October 5, Sen. Sandack participated in the 7th Annual Nurses Legislative Forum at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.  While there, Sen. Sandack spoke with the hospital’s nurses and associates and also received a flu shot.  Other legislators that participated include Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville), and Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Westmont).

Next Wednesday, October 10, Sen. Sandack will be participating in a luncheon panel on pension reform.  The event, hosted by the Downers Grove Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry, will also feature Former Speaker of the House Lee Daniels, Executive Director of IMRF Louis Kosiba, and businessman and government watchdog Adam Andrzejewski.  People are encouraged to submit questions they would like answered during the panel to bpeterson@downersgrove.org.  To find out more information or to register for the event, visit www.downersgrove.org, or call 630-968-4050. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Pierce Downers October 16, 2012 at 07:56 PM
So Dynamic Tea Party Duo, since Raccoon Eyes (purely a term of endearment) lost in the primary, are you now advocating that voters choose the Democrat Party's candidate instead of the Republican Party's candidate?
PAUL C. October 16, 2012 at 08:25 PM
If you are addresing me, you should know Senator Sandack (aka Transparency) is running unapposed.
Lee October 22, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Penn Gaming is AGAINST increased gaming??? Noooo. http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20121022/news/710229788/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
PAUL C. October 22, 2012 at 09:16 PM
Read the article closely.
PAUL C. October 22, 2012 at 09:18 PM
A review of campaign finance records shows Arlington Park has given $82,047 to state-level candidates since lawmakers finished their session in June. Track officials want lawmakers to override a veto from Gov. Pat Quinn before the middle of January that would allow the racetrack to have up to 1,200 slot machines. Advertisement More on the Web Bluhm family donations Arlington Park donations Penn National Gaming donations On the other side, casino company Penn National Gaming has donated $91,500 over the same time period. The company owns the Hollywood Casino in Aurora and one of the two casinos in Joliet. Penn National would rather the veto stick, ending for now the prospect of five new, competing casinos that also are included in the gambling bill.

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