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National Editorial & Columnists

Thomson saga began oddly

Prison sale takes white elephant off state’s hands

Eleven years ago, I noticed that inmates hadn’t been transferred to the newly constructed prison in Thomson.

I thought it was odd.

Apparently, I was one of the first reporters to notice, because officials at the Illinois Department of Corrections became quite defensive. 

Eventually, I received an anxious phone call from then-DOC Director Donald Snyder.

“Scott, the prison isn’t done yet. That’s why there aren’t any inmates there,” he said.

Sensing a bit of skepticism on my part, he invited me fly to the prison with him. Upon arriving at the prison, we toured the complex.

Everything not only looked completed but appeared to be state-of-the-art. 

A rather frustrated Snyder could see the facts weren’t lining up with his narrative. So he took me into the gymnasium and pointed to a roll of carpet that hasn’t been glued down yet.

“See, the prison isn’t done yet,” he said.

That was his excuse for why the $143 million prison hadn’t opened – carpet that hadn’t been glued down.

The reality was simpler: Illinois lacked the funds to staff the most costly prison it had ever built. That was the case in 2001 and is still the case today. 

The prison – located 40 miles north of the Quad-Cities – was built by then-Gov. George Ryan. Both Snyder and Ryan ended up locked up in prisons themselves.

The Thomson prison was briefly used to house a small number of minimum-security prisoners, but essentially it has been unused for more than a decade. 

The state has been trying to sell the prison to the federal government since then. And on Tuesday, the feds cut a check to the Land of Lincoln for $165 million, ending one of the most costly white-elephant sagas in the state’s history.

Unions vs.

basic services

Imagine a crime-riddled city so desperate to get out from under its union contract and pension obligations that it eliminated its police department.

If you think that is the action of a politician like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, think again. 

It is being done in Camden, N.J., by a city council dominated by political liberals who face few good alternatives. They are shutting down the police department – perhaps the city’s most vital service – just to get out from under the union contract. 

A new police force for Camden, not covered by a union contract, is being formed by the county sheriff’s office, the New York Times reports. 

Scenarios like this are playing out across the nation. 

For decades, politicians have placated public employee unions by promising more – in the future. 

The problem is, the future is here, the bills have come due, and tough choices are being made between honoring old promises made or offering basic services today – like police protection. 

Two years ago, Gov. Pat Quinn was the darling of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Arguably, he might never have won the governorship without their help.

Today, AFSCME members view him as lower than toe jam. 

The problem? Quinn has found that in a time of austerity, the union refuses to be austere in its demands.  

The coming decade may well be defined by the struggle of government and its unionized employees.

Note to readers – Scott Reeder’s column is underwritten by the Illinois Policy Institute.

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