Lawmakers respond to Quinn’s proposal to close 7 facilities

Gov. Pat Quinn announced his proposal Thursday to close seven state prisons and facilities for the mentally ill, laying of more than 1,900 employees in the process. Quinn said the closures are a result of the reduced budget approved by the Illinois Legislature.

State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, criticized the governor for not being active in the budget-making process. She said this is not the first time Quinn has tried to shut down facilities as a way to cut back and threaten the General Assembly.

“Most of these (facilities), except for Tinley Park, are downstate, and when you threaten an agency in a very small community downstate, it affects the whole community,” she said. “If that (facility) were to shut down, the economy of that would really suffer. So it’s a frightful thing the governor has done.”

Jakobsson also said Quinn could have been more active in the budget-making process if he wanted to save the state money. She said Quinn rejected a different budget proposal that had bipartisan support in favor of the current budget.

Champaign Mayor Don Gerard was also critical of the governor’s plan.

“It’s calamitous to the health of our communities when those who cannot care for ourselves are left to their own devices,” he said.

Gerard also said closing these facilities will have a ripple effect on the entire community and economy, which is especially bad when trying to avoid a double-dip recession. He said he is glad the state government is finally trying to deal with the deficit, but he does not think the governor’s plan is the correct way to go about it.

Gerard’s counterpart in Urbana, Mayor Laurel Prussing, was less critical of the governor.

“I think Quinn is living up to the limits that the legislature has imposed on him,” she said. “I don’t think he wants to cut these agencies — they just didn’t appropriate the money.”

State Rep. Jason Barickman, R-105,compared Quinn’s actions to those of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich when he tried to shut down the Pontiac Correctional Center to save money.

“Now we hear Gov. Quinn trying to use a similar strategy with Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, and I’m concerned that decision could have equally dangerous consequences for our entire correctional system,” Barickman said in a press release.

“I think what has become clear is that Gov. Quinn does not embrace a responsible, calculated approach to fiscal management, but instead favors headline grabbing scenarios that are intended to force a manufactured crisis,” he said.

The proposal has also drawn fire from labor union The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, for violating a no-layoff agreement.

“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.”

Quinn’s proposal is not final, as it sill must be reviewed by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, and employees must be given proper notice.

_The Associated Press contributed to this report._