Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2011

Quinn to Lawmakers: Live with Your Budget Choices

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Radio and The Associated Press)

Gov. Pat Quinn says the layoffs and closures he's announcing are a direct result of lawmakers' choices on the Illinois budget.

He said Thursday that members of the General Assembly can't vote to slash the budget and then complain if that requires closing state facilities and cutting jobs.

The Democratic governor said lawmakers need "a rendezvous with reality.'' He announced that he wants to layoff more than 1,900 people, and close seven prisons and mental facilities around the state.

"It's only somewhat comforting that Pontiac Correctional Center was not mentioned," State Sen. Shane Cultra (R-Onarga) said in a statement. "The Livingston County area has dealt with facility closure twice. Any cuts to security staff at our correctional centers should be considered extremely short-sighted. I expect the announced closure of Logan Correctional Center will only negatively affect our correctional system."

State Representative Jason Barickman (R-Champaign) questions why Governor Quinn can't manage with the dollars that are available. The freshman lawmaker says he's not sure how lawmakers will able to address the cuts this fall, but says cuts need to be across the board.

"Over the course of the last 5 or 10 years, you've seen social service providers get hit tremendously hard, and disproportionate to maybe some of the other areas in the budget," said Barickman. "We all recognize that there's a limited amount of means that our government can and should spend. But again, just targeting some specific places is not necessarily the best way to lead the state."

State Representative Naomi Jakobsson (D-Urbana) says legislators need to look at the Governor's cuts as a proposal, and a call to action during the fall veto session. Jakobsson says she's not sure what will happen when legislators return to Springfield, but says she's already looking where the residents will go should the three mental health facilities and two developmental centers indeed close.

"In fact, many people would like to see more community-based facilites, so that people can live in the community, and have a greater quality of life, and be near families or the communities that they're familiar with," said Jakobsson.

But Jakobsson says any closures, that have been discussed in the past, should happen on a gradual scale. A document from Governor's office indicates all the facilities are targeted to be closed by the end of next March, and some by the end of 2011.

State Representative Chad Hays (R-Catlin) says he doesn't understand why Quinn would push for these cuts, especially after lawmakers earlier this year approved a 67-percent income tax hike designed to boost revenue. Hays says it's unrealistic for Quinn to expect that the tax increase would improve the state's economy.

"The governor got exactly what he wanted without a single Republican vote," he said. "A massive tax increase was muscled through, and five minutes was muscled through, and five minutes later he's crying foul, we don't have any money. You can't have it both ways."

Advocates say the proposed closure of five Illinois facilities for mentally ill and developmentally disabled adults must be handled with care. Tony Paulauski heads the Arc of Illinois, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities. His group has pushed to move residents to community settings, and he said that has proven successful in other states.

"If it's funded that we can transition people from state institutions to community living then that's a good thing," Paulauski said. "I'm hoping this isn't totally driven by dollars and cents. That wouldn't provide safe transition for those folks in state institutions."

Paulauski said money should be set aside to make sure community care is available and time is given to families having to make location choices.

Even though the budget cycle has about nine months remaining, Quinn said he is starting the process of working within the financial restrictions lawmakers laid out.

"Decisions made by members of the General Assembly I may or may not agree with, but once they have adopted their budget, it is now the law of our state," Quinn said. "We have to implement this in a responsible manner."

That would violate an agreement Quinn struck with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The union is almost certain to sue.

The major public employees union in Illinois said it will fight Governor Pat Quinn's threat to close 7 state facilities and lay off close to 2,000 workers. Anders Lindall is a spokesman for the union AFSCME.

"These cuts would throw those thousands, up to 2,000 working men and women out of a job," Lindall said. "People who get up everyday, and do often thankless, frequently difficult, and in the prisons and elsewhere, real dangerous work - the real work of state government."

The union - like Quinn - said the moves could be avoided if the legislature appropriates more money when it meets next month.

The governor should not count on support from State Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine).

"He has come here to lecture the General Assembly, to spend even more," Murphy said. "That tax increase that was sold as temporary, how temporary does it look right now when it doesn't even pay the bills we have today."

The closures and layoffs wouldn't take effect for several months. A legislative committee will examine Quinn's proposal, but does not have the power to block it.

The list of the seven state facilities Gov. Pat Quinn has targeted for closure due to Illinois' budget deficit and the number of workers at each location, according to the governor's office:

_ Tinley Park Mental Health Center - 195 staff members

_ Singer Mental Health Center - 150 staff members

_ Chester Mental Health Center - 464 staff members

_ Jacksonville Developmental Center - 420 staff members

_ Jack Mabley Developmental Center - 163 staff members

_ Logan Correctional Center - 270 security guards and 87 non-security workers

_ Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro - 101 staff members

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2011

Judge Rules Against Ill. Union on Canceled Raises

A federal judge has ruled against state employees in a dispute over whether Gov. Pat Quinn can cancel raises promised in union contracts.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Thursday it will appeal the ruling.

The union says Judge Sue Myerscough questioned the governor's actions and said he could simply have asked legislators for more money rather than canceling raises. But she ultimately ruled Wednesday that his action wasn't an illegal "impairment'' of the contract.

The Democratic governor canceled raises that were supposed to take effect July 1. His move affected about 30,000 state government employees.

Quinn said lawmakers didn't provide enough money to provide the required raises and still keep government running for a full year.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 08, 2011

Ind. Lawmakers to Weigh University Tuition Cost

A top Indiana legislator is asking state university officials to defend tuition hikes made over the last decade.

State Budget Committee chairman Jeff Espich says that growth in tuition costs at public universities "far outpaces'' inflation and the growth in Hoosier incomes. He noted that in 2000 average in-state tuition rate accounted for about 12 percent of per capita income. That average is expected to grow to 19 percent of income by 2013.

Representatives from Indiana University, Purdue University and other state universities are expected to testify Thursday during a budget committee meeting.

University leaders have argued that tuition increases have been necessary to maintain education quality during a time of reduced state funding.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 07, 2011

Report: 2,300 Layoffs Set at Illinois Companies

A new state report finds that nearly 2,300 workers at eleven Illinois companies will be laid off in the next few weeks.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports the information from an August report by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. Among the cuts are about 630 at Chicago Restaurant Partners, nearly 500 at an Edwardsville warehousing and storage company and nearly 200 at Lowe's Home Centers.

Employers must inform the state before any mass layoffs under the Illinois Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Mass layoffs include 250 or more full-time employees or 25 or more full-time employees if they consist of more than a 1/3 of full-time workers at a company.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 06, 2011

Gov. Quinn Plans Unspecified Job Cuts

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll announce further budget cuts later this week, and Quinn indicated Tuesday that he will include layoffs.

If the layoffs move forward, then that would break an agreement the governor made with the major state employee union.

The governor would not say how many layoffs to expect.

"We have to do what we have to do in order to make sure we get through this fiscal year with the appropriation that the General Assembly provided," Quinn said.

Quinn said lawmakers didn't appropriate enough money for him to keep his agreement with AFSCME, the union representing thousands of state employees. Before last year's election, he signed a deal with the union, pledging not to close facilities or lay off any workers though mid next year. But he has already broken part of the deal, earlier this summer when he halted pay increases.

Anytime somebody enters into contract, you expect them to live up to it," AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. "And anytime somebody gives you their word, you expect them to keep it."

But Quinn said he's not betraying the union. He claims union agreements are always subject to appropriations from the General Assembly, and if "the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that."

That fight is still taking place in court.

"Those who are unhappy about any cuts really should visit their members of the General Assembly, their representatives and senators," Quinn said.

That said, Quinn denies the layoff threat is just an effort to force lawmakers to appropriate more money.

Meanwhile, not all lawmakers are believing the governor's threats to cut state workers and close facilities.

Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said he hopes Quinn is serious about reining in the cost of government, but Murphy said he is also skeptical.

"My worst fear is this is sort of a political stunt on the part of the governor to go in to areas represented by Republicans and dangle large job losses to try to pressure support for his almost 9 billion dollar borrowing scheme," Murphy said.

Quinn wants to borrow to pay off a large backlog of bills but Republicans have blocked it. While Murphy has said he doesn't want to borrow or give the governor additional spending authority, some of his fellow GOP lawmakers, like State Senator Larry Bomke (R-Springfield) are less opposed to those approaches.

"What my suburban colleagues feel is the right thing to do, that's up to them," said Bomke, who represents a large number of state workers. "I'm all for keeping people gainfully employed and not laying people off when it's not necessary."

The issue is expected to get attention when lawmakers begin their fall session next month.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 03, 2011

Illinois Lawmakers Head to Cuba to Strike Business Deals

A group of Illinois lawmakers are scheduled to travel to Cuba on Tuesday, in hopes of striking deals between Cuban officials and Illinois businesses.

Representative Dan Burke of Chicago will be going on what he calls a learning mission for him and other legislators. The Democrat said Cuban imports and exports with Illinois have dropped dramatically in the past, but he thinks now is a good time to turn things around.

"Being an agricultural state, we have everything that they would potentially need, I think the controls over the commerce and industry in Cuba has been lessened in the last few months so there are business opportunities for our state based companies that might be pretty dramatic," Burke said.

Burke said the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is a reason for a decrease in exports and imports.

Taxpayers won't be footing the bill for the trip, as lawmakers will be paying their own way from either personal funds or their political accounts. Burke said the group will publish a report of the trip when they return home.

This isn't the first time Illinois politicians have visited Cuba. Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan was the first sitting U.S. governor to visit Cuba after Fidel Castro took power.


WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

US Rep. Johnson Plans to Introduce Two Year Budget Plan

Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana says he will introduce legislation that would require lawmakers to approve a budget every two years, rather than each year.

The measure would also establish an appropriations cycle starting Oct. 1 of each odd-numbered year, and any budget or appropriations bill passed by one chamber would have to be voted on in the other chamber within a two-week period. Johnson said there also couldn't be any hods, filibusters once one chamber acts.

Johnson said his budget plan will also give the federal government more time to assess how well agencies and departments use money that they are appropriated.

Illinois, which has a multi-billion dollar budget deficit, is on an annual budget cycle. Meanwhile, Indiana passes a budget every other year. Johnson said Indiana's billion dollar surplus is a testament that such a plan works.

"They have a surplus every year," Johnson said. "Look at what we're doing in Illinois. Illinois is an abyss of fiscal stewardship. No state in the union is operating worse than Illinois, and it has for years. So, if Indiana is our partial model, and looking at the results they have, I in many ways am glad to look at the model."

But John Ketzenberger, president of the non-partisan Indiana Fiscal Policy Institute, said there isn't much connection between his state's budget cycle and its surplus. He noted that there are other reasons why Indiana has a surplus.

"There were more than a billion dollars in cuts," Ketzenberger explained. "When the recession started, more than a billion dollars in reserve, and the state used about $2 billion dollars in federal stimulus money over the course of the recession."

Ketzenberger said Indiana's biennial budget plan has helped the state by encouraging more fiscal discipline.

Johnson is running for re-election in a newly drawn 13th congressional district, which includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis. He said he expects to get bipartisan support for his legislation.

His Democratic challenger, David Gill of Bloomington, said he would also support a two-year window for approving the federal budget. However, Gill criticized Johnson, saying his decision to vote against raising the nation's debt ceiling shows he doesn't have any credibility in tackling budget issues.

"The fact that he voted against that bipartisan deal to raise the deficit after the Democrats had compromised, and bent over backwards in terms of spending cuts and any kind of increased revenues," Gill said. "That makes me question where he's coming from and how much of his proposal for a two-year budget simply is playing politics."

Gill ran unsuccessful bids against Johnson in 2004, 2006, and 2010. Former Illinois lawmaker, Democrat Jay Hoffman of Collinsville, is also considering a run for the Congressional seat, but he hasn't announced his candidacy.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Prairie Center Loses State Funding for Detox Center

An Urbana agency that treats victims of drug and alcohol abuse has again lost funding for its detox program, and this time it may be for good.

Prairie Center Health Systems CEO Bruce Suardini said it is doubtful the $450,000 will be restored by lawmakers this fall. In September of 2008, the program shut down for six months before funds were reinstated.

Suardini said the detox program still sees about 750 people per year, and after cutting off referrals Thursday night, he said more addicts won't get the appropriate treatment.

"We watch the clients carefully because it's life-threatening," he said. "So a lot of people who will now probably end up in an ER room will get treated for the day and released. And they really don't have a chance to look at the addiction and get into a long-term care kind of way to combat that addiction."

Cuts to those programs statewide equal 28-million dollars. Suardini says while a number of area legislators would back a supplemental bill to restore that money this fall, it would require 3/5ths majority in each chamber.

"The chances of that happening, and total money being restored in the state of Illinois - I'm just more pessimistic about that because of the volume of things that are on the (General) Assembly's plate," he said. "So I don't see that coming back."

But Suardini said other programs for residential care and outpatient clinics, including one in Danville, will continue to operate. But he said reduced staffing levels means clients will have to be put on a waiting list.

Meanwhile, Suardini said Prairie Center has ended talks with Community Elements in Champaign (formerly the Mental Health Center of Champaign County) about a potential merger. He said state funding mechanisms forced clients to use services separately, and a merger wasn't feasible at this time.

Community Elements CEO Sheila Ferguson says the decision was solely Prairie Center's, and was disappointed the two sides couldn't work something out.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 02, 2011

Lt. Gov. Simon Wants to Make Ill. Districts More Efficient

Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon wants schools to know she isn't gunning for them.

Simon was recently appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn to lead a commission tasked with finding ways to cut school district administration costs and redirect funding back to students.

The commission begins its work with an eye on the high number of districts in the state. Officials say Illinois has about 870 districts. That's the third-highest number in the country behind California and Texas.

Quinn raised some hackles when he talked about school consolidation in this year's budget address. But Simon insists her effort isn't about cutting schools or reducing districts just for numbers' sake.

She says her goals for the Classrooms First Commission are to make districts more efficient and schools better equipped to educate students.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - September 01, 2011

University of Illinois to Ask for 5 Percent More Money

The University of Illinois plans to ask the state for about five percent more money in the coming fiscal year.

The school plans for its budget to top $5 billion.

A university trustees' committee on Wednesday reviewed plans for a budget just over $5 billion for the 2012 fiscal year. The News-Gazette in Champaign reports that would be 5.2 percent more than the 2011 budget. The proposed budget must be cleared by trustees before it's considered by the governor, General Assembly and Illinois Board of Higher Education.

The state is now $313 million behind on money it owes the university from past appropriations. The state government is unable to keep up with money it has promised universities and other institutions because of a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

Categories: Economics, Education

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