Ill. Gov: Cutting 1,900 jobs, 7 state institutions

Associated Press
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks at a news conference in Chicago, Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011. Gov. Pat Quinn announced Thursday that he'll try to close seven state institutions and lay off more than 1,900 employees in an effort to live within the reduced budget approved by the Illinois Legislature, and he challenged lawmakers not to "run away" from the impact of their decisions.  (AP Photo/David Banks)
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CHICAGO (AP) — Gov. Pat Quinn pointed the finger at the Illinois Legislature and said Thursday he was being forced to take steps to lay off more than 1,900 workers and close seven state facilities to live within a reduced budget, but he offered lawmakers an out to try to mitigate the damage and set up a potential showdown in the fall.

Quinn announced he had begun the process to close a prison in Lincoln, a youth prison in Murphysboro and facilities for the mentally ill and disabled in Rockford, Jacksonville, Tinley Park, Dixon and Chester. Those closures, along with cuts elsewhere in government, will eliminate 1,938 jobs.

The latest cuts are estimated to save $54.8 million, still leaving a gap of nearly $183 million between the spending lawmakers authorized and what the governor says is the minimum needed to operate Illinois government for a full year. A major employee union blasted the governor for violating a no-layoff agreement, while legislative reaction was mixed with Republicans accusing Quinn of partisan decision-making.

During a 42-minute news conference, Quinn repeatedly blamed lawmakers for the cuts stemming from the budget they sent him in May that he could have vetoed but didn't. He encouraged lawmakers, who come back to work in Springfield next month, to reallocate money to lessen the cuts or live with the consequences.

"It's time for a rendezvous with reality and if you vote for something in the spring don't run away from it in the fall," Quinn said.

Parents at the Jack Mabley Development Center in Dixon are already planning to hire an attorney to fight the proposed closure, said Barbara Cozzone-Achino, the mother of two developmentally disabled men who live there.

"It's going to be devastating because my sons don't take change very well," Cozzone-Achino said. Some advocates for the developmentally disabled like the move to community care settings as long as there is sufficient money to do it.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, intends to revisit the "shortcomings" of the budget, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

"In days and weeks ahead, we will study the Governor's plans to determine what legislative action may be needed," she said in a statement.

But Steve Brown, a spokesman for Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the budget recognized the tough financial times.

"This year the Legislature made a very serious effort at only spending what we thought was coming in," Brown said.

Republicans, who have called for spending cuts, were quick to cry foul over Quinn's choices for cuts, accusing him of partisan decision-making.

"We have been pushing for cuts and efficiencies and will analyze the governor's proposal — unfortunately on its face — it appears that Governor Quinn has targeted Republican facilities and Republican jobs in his endless quest to spend more money on things that he wants," House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego said in a statement. "It is still not clear how he chose the facilities and jobs on his list."

The money Quinn says lawmakers could reallocate to soften the cuts is the $376 million he axed from their budget before signing it. But it might not be that easy because lawmakers could have other ideas for that money. For example, it includes what Quinn eliminated for regional school superintendent offices around the state when he canceled their pay because he wants them to be paid from another source. It's also money Quinn trimmed for school buses and Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor.

Quinn's action on Thursday to move ahead with layoffs and closures violates a deal Quinn negotiated with a key state union in exchange for other concessions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has said the agreement has the force of law, and the union is likely to sue to enforce it.

"Any layoff and any closure would be a direct violation of that agreement," said AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall. "It would be a direct violation of the word the governor gave and AFSCME has shown that we will do whatever is necessary to see that the rights of our members under the contract and under the law are upheld."

The union already has sued over pay raises Quinn canceled for about 30,000 state employees to save $76 million. A federal judge ruled Wednesday against Illinois state employees in that dispute and AFSCME plans to appeal.

The Democratic governor said he has already heard complaints from lawmakers about cutting services and he expects to hear even more. But he said the Democrat-controlled Legislature chose to pass a budget that was $1.5 billion less than Quinn proposed and now lawmakers must live with the results.

But Quinn said he can't wait for lawmakers to act or assume that they will do what he wants.

Quinn said he chose to sign a budget he disliked because if he sent it back to the Legislature, the Republican minority in the state Senate would have had leverage to demand even more "radical" reductions. Quinn said he didn't want to give them a chance to affect the budget.

Republican Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine said it's amazing Illinois still doesn't have enough after the Democrat-controlled Legislature earlier this year voted to raise the state income tax.

"You just heard the governor lament that it's still not enough, which drives home the point and crystallizes that it will never be enough for them," Murphy said. "You give Gov. Quinn and his allies in Springfield more money, they will find a way to spend it."

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Associated Press writers Christopher Wills in Springfield and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.

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