Kurt EricksonThe Quad-City Times | Posted: Wednesday, November 9, 2011 9:49 pm |
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn is floating a retooled budget plan that could avert more than 1,900 layoffs and delay the closure of state facilities.
As part of an 11th-hour budget agreement being brokered with lawmakers, Quinn would agree to close four state developmental centers and two mental health facilities within the next 2 ½ years, rather than shut down seven facilities next month.
With the clock ticking down on Thursday’s scheduled end of the fall veto session, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, announced lawmakers would return Nov. 21 to try and wrap up any unfinished business.
Under the governor’s new proposal, the Department of Human Services would reduce the number of residents served by state-operated developmental centers by at least 600. That would allow the agency to close up to four of the state’s eight developmental centers by the summer of 2014.
An outline of the proposal did not identify which facilities, including centers in Anna, Dwight, Dixon and Centralia, may be on the future chopping block.
The new plan also calls for the closure of two unidentified state psychiatric hospitals by mid-2014.
While the latest budget fix wouldn’t address the state’s massive backlog of unpaid bills, it would at least temporarily end Quinn’s threat to close Logan Correctional Center and the youth prison in Murphysboro.
For Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, the potential deal could be a double-edged sword. Although the Murphysboro youth center could be spared, it could put the Choate Developmental Center in Anna in the cross-hairs for future closure.
“It’s frustrating. This has been the way Quinn works. He tests the wind and then changes his mind. We need a leader,” Bost said.
Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, said Quinn’s actions were similar to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who also threatened to close facilities.
“What is he thinking? He is doing a great job of following Rod Blagojevich’s lead, threatening Vandalia and Pontiac twice, and now he’s responded with two poorly executed closure plans,” Jones said.
The governor’s office said lawmakers must give Quinn the power to juggle money under the current budget in order for the change to work.
“This would be our long-term plan if, after working collaboratively with the General Assembly, we are able achieve a reallocation of funds to allow us to operate facilities for the rest of this fiscal year,” spokeswoman Brie Callahan said.
The state’s largest employee union said Quinn’s latest plan is no better than the current closure threat.
“Governor Quinn is under fire for his irresponsible push to cut mental health care, force people with severe developmental disabilities out of the homes they have chosen, and destroy thousands of middle-class jobs,” AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said. “Spreading that pain out over the coming years doesn’t make it any less wrong.”
The new plan also highlighted a split among disability advocates, some of whom believe state-operated facilities serve a valuable purpose for the profoundly disabled, while others believe the institutions should be shuttered with the residents being placed in community settings.
“We are very frustrated and outraged,” said advocate Rita Burke, who favors keeping the institutions open. “The community will not and cannot handle some of the most disabled residents.”
Tony Paulauski, executive director of the Arc of Illinois, said the state is behind the times when it comes to closing institutions.
“This is a long time coming. We think eight state institutions is way more than are necessary,” Paulauski said.
The revamped closure plan doesn’t specifically address other cuts made by Quinn in reaction to the budget he was handed by lawmakers in May.
For example, money to reimburse hospitals and school districts for various costs also remained in limbo with one day left before lawmakers leave town for the year.
It appeared Quinn’s decision to cut money for school transportation costs may stand, leaving local districts scrambling to pay for busing.
“There’s not a lot of support for education in the negotiating room,” Rep. Will Davis, D-Homewood, said.
The new plan was being circulated a day before a legislative panel is scheduled to meet to vote on Quinn’s recommendation to close Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Jacksonville Development Center and the Tinley Park Mental Health Center.
The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability last month voted to reject Quinn’s plan to close mental health centers in Chester and Rockford, a developmental center in Dixon and the juvenile lock-up in Murphysboro.
Although the commission’s recommendation is non-binding, the governor has never gone against the commission’s recommendations.