Quinn to Lawmakers: Live with Your Budget Choices

September 08, 2011

(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

Story source: WILL