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A challenge for 2013: Get prison opened

Part of the Sauk Valley has a new congresswoman who has friends in high places. We urge U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to focus her efforts on getting the federal prison in Thomson opened this year.

Published: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

Whiteside and Carroll counties are among the counties of the 17th Congressional District that gained a new representative this week.

Out went U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, a one-term Republican from Colona, who lost in November.

In came U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat from East Moline, who defeated Schilling.

Bustos, who took the oath of office Thursday on the floor of the U.S. House, said she was “incredibly honored and humbled” to be the region’s new congresswoman.

Bustos campaigned on a theme of fighting for middle-class families.

“From Rockford to the Quad-Cities to Peoria and everywhere in between, I will work day in and day out with a spirit of bipartisanship and Midwestern common sense to bring jobs, economic opportunity, and a better future to communities across the district,” she said in a news release after she was sworn in.

Jobs.

Economic opportunity.

A better future.

We like the sound of that.

In our region, Bustos could make good on her three-point pledge by focusing her efforts on getting the Thomson prison opened as a federal facility.

The federal government bought the state prison, 11 years old and largely unused, in October for $165 million.

However, more money – between $40 million and $50 million – must be appropriated and spent to upgrade the state prison to federal standards.

Until those upgrades are completed, the prison will sit empty.

It will have no prisoners, and no staff to guard them and operate the facility.

Officials have said that, as a federal prison, Thomson would generate 1,100 jobs.

The annual labor income would be $19 million.

Business sales would amount to an additional $61 million.

The total annual impact to the region’s economy could be about $200 million.

While only a freshman congresswoman, Bustos has more clout than the average back-bencher. She is a family friend of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Springfield, who endorsed Bustos in the primary and general election, and who worked hard to push through the Thomson prison purchase.

Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, is a good friend of President Barack Obama, also an Illinois Democrat.

Bustos has her work cut out for her in the House, which is controlled by Republicans. However, she has made a point of meeting as many of the new members of both parties as possible, and she stresses her commitment to bipartisanship.

If the stars were ever aligned so that the prison in Thomson was to finally open, that time is now.

We encourage Bustos and her friends in high places to work hard to find the money to get that prison upgraded, staffed, and operational this year.

Doing so would fulfill her pledge to bring jobs, economic opportunity, and a better future for this part of the district.

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