WASHINGTON--Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he and Sen. Dick Durbin are seeking a letter from the White House saying the vacant state prison in Thomson would not house detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, so plans could advance to sell the facility to the federal government for the Bureau of Prisons.
Quinn spoke to reporters on an array of issues after meeting with Durbin, a fellow Democrat, and other Illinois lawmakers.
The governor said the state and federal government were “close on price” in the negotiations over a sale price for the prison, which he said would be $180 million “or so.”
Quinn said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., requested the letter for assurance that detainees from Guantanamo would not be moved to the downstate prison.
Asked whether he expected the letter to be sent from the White House, Quinn said: “We hope so.”
The White House in November 2009 proposed moving Guantanamo detainees to Illinois, but the plan has faced stiff Republican opposition.
Quinn also addressed nuclear safety in Illinois in the wake of Japan’s catastrophe. The state has 11 operating nuclear plants in six sites, more than any other state.
He said he met Wednesday with Jonathon Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and his assistant, Joe Klinger, about plant safety in the event of a tornado, flooding and other disasters. Four of the state’s reactors have a similar design as the failed reactor in Japan, he said.
The state may seek higher fees from Exelon Corp., which owns the plants, to conduct enhanced inspections, Quinn said. He indicated that inspection fees had been stagnant for eight or nine years and said he believed his budget proposal sought two percent more.
“We may seek a higher number,” Quinn said, adding that everyone in the world would be studying nuclear safety after the Japan crisis.
He said he thought the fees Exelon now paid were $19 million to $20 million but “I’m not positive.”
Responding to Senate President John Cullerton’s suggestion that Illinois ends video gambling Quinn said he had “no great love” for video gambling, even though it has not yet gotten off the ground.
The governor said a proposed cigarette tax was a “better way” to fund a multi-billion dollar program of capital improvements in the state, fixes he said were aimed at luring more jobs to Illinois.
On Chicago’s Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel, Quinn said he and Emanuel are scheduled to meet Friday for lunch at the governor’s office in Chicago. Quinn said he looked forward to working with the new mayor. “We have a progressive mayor-elect and a progressive governor and we want to be progressive and aggressive,” he said. “It starts with jobs.”
Quinn said Illinois had cut unemployment for 12 straight months and said he would like the jobless rate to fall this year from nine percent to seven percent.
On Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno’s call for $6.7 billion in cuts to his budget proposal, Quinn said the “apostles” of “draconian cuts” end up hurting the economy and job growth.
“I’m not listening to them,” he said, saying money for health care, human services and public safety were important.
In addition to Durbin and Kirk, the lawmakers who met with Quinn were House Democrats Danny Davis, Luis Gutierrez, Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley and House Republicans Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Bobby Schilling and Joe Walsh.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times