Three months ago, Gov. Pat Quinn unveiled a budget that made the tough choice to shut down a handful of government-run facilities around the state. He did it for good reason.
The facilities, including prisons and centers for the developmentally disabled, are unneeded and hugely expensive. The services they provide can be done much more efficiently, and their high cost puts a squeeze on funding available for other social services.
Now we’re coming down to the final decisions in Springfield on state spending for the next fiscal year. The closing of the facilities are a bargaining chip. Legislative leaders may spare some of these places in exchange for votes on other priorities. We understand that’s how a budget is negotiated.
But Illinois can’t afford to logroll its way to higher spending on inefficient services and institutions. The Legislature has made tough decisions on Medicaid. It has to make tough decisions on every line item. That means shutting down obsolete facilities.
Case in point: the Jacksonville Developmental Center. The ongoing dispute over closing this aging facility shows why the state has such a poor record of managing its finances.
Under the governor’s proposal, Jacksonville would close in a matter of months, after a transition period in which most of its residents move into community care. These are some of Illinois’ most fragile citizens — people with severe intellectual disabilities. They require individual assessments to determine their needs. The governor has a sensible plan to make that move go smoothly.
Other states have made the same move with spectacular results. Not only do the states save money, the individuals involved fare much better. Research shows that community-based care — small group homes and the like — provides the opportunity for much more rewarding lives. No single formula is right for everyone. For most, however, community care beats institutions.
Illinois is among a very few states clinging to its institutions. Local politicians are loath to give up the state-funded payroll and contracts that these facilities generate. Labor unions fight for the facilities to preserve jobs for their members. Understandably, parents and guardians of the residents worry about change. They know any transition carries a risk for their loved ones. They doubt the state can manage it. Yet we’ve seen this transition work all across the country. We’ve seen the governor’s plan. We believe his path leads to humane progress for those directly involved and for the many thousands indirectly affected.
Education and social services are likely to face more budget cuts this year and perhaps for many years while Illinois digs itself out of a terrible financial hole. When the state spends an unnecessary dollar to prop up an antiquated state-run facility, that’s a dollar that doesn’t go to the classroom, doesn’t go to health care, doesn’t go to community care.
Lawmakers, you’ve started to show some courage this year. Show it again: Close these obsolete facilities so Illinois can put its money where it will do the most good.