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Quinn to close seven state institutions, lay off 1,900 workers

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn, shown here taking the oath of office, has announced plans to lay off 1,900 workers and close seven state facilities as part of an ongoing budget battle with lawmakers.

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Sean Crawford and WBEZ's Sam Hudzik was used in this story.

Gov. Pat Quinn says he will need to lay off 1,900 state employees and close seven state facilities to live within a budget sent to him by the General Assembly.

"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 told reporters in Chicago today. "We have to implement this in a responsible manner."

The facilities include a prison, mental health centers, and facilities for people with developmental disabilities. One of the facilities is the Chester Mental Health Center in Randolph County, about 60 miles south of St. Louis.

(A full list of the facilities, and the number of workers at each location,  is provided below).

Quinn, a Democrat, says the closures are necessary to keep spending down to the level imposed by the General Assembly. He used the same excuse to cancel a contracted pay raise for state employees, a decision a judge upheld today

"It's time for a rendezvous with reality," Quinn told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune.  He says the closures will save about $313 million, and that lawmakers should restore about $376 million they removed from the budget in June if they want to keep the facilities open.

Lawmakers return to Springfield for the fall session next month, but it's not clear there will be enough support to restructure the budget then.  The closures won't happen overnight - the required hearings and paperwork could take months.

At least one member of the Republican party calls the threatened closures an excuse for Gov. Quinn to spend more money.

"He's come here to lecture the General Assembly to spend even more," said state Senator Matt Murphy of Palatine. "That tax increase that was sold as temporary? How temporary does it look right now if we can't even pay the bills we have today."

Quinn could have vetoed the budget in June, but says he chose to sign it anyway to keep Republicans from having the chance to demand more "radical" cuts.

The proposed layoffs and closures would violate an agreement Quinn signed with the state's employees union. A lawsuit from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is almost guaranteed.

"These cuts would throw up to 2,000 working men and women out of a job," said AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall. "People who get up every day and do often thankless, frequently difficult and in the prisons and elsewhere, very dangerous work - the real work of state government."

Advocates for the mentally ill and the disabled say the closure of facilities for those populations needs to be handled carefully.

Tony Paulauski's advocacy group, the Arc of Illinois, has pushed for years to move people with developmental disabilities into community settings, which he says has been 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," he 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." He hopes Quinn sets aside enough funding to provide community care and gives families time to evaluate their options.

Here is 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 in suburban Chicago - 195 staff members
     - Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford - 150 staff members
     - Chester Mental Health Center - 464 staff members
     - Jacksonville Developmental Center - 420 staff members
     - Jack Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon - 163 staff members
     - Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln - 270 security guards and 87
non-security workers
     - Illinois Youth Center-Murphysboro - 101 staff members

Most of the closures appear to be in districts represented by Republicans.

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