Lawmakers butt heads with Quinn over prison closings

Posted: Nov. 29, 2012 10:24 am Updated: Dec. 20, 2012 2:24 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois legislators overrode Gov. Pat Quinn's budget vetoes Wednesday in a battle of wills over the fate of several state facilities.

By a 35-16 vote, the Senate rejected Quinn's elimination of $57 million that would have forced the closing of two prisons and two juvenile detention centers. Quinn had sought instead to direct money to child protection programs.

If the House takes a similar vote, the governor will not be forced to spend the money or keep the prisons open, but he would be prohibited from spending the money elsewhere. Quinn aides said his message to the House will be about the choice between spending on underutilized prisons or better protection against the abuse and neglect of children.

"He's talking to lawmakers and will impress upon them that the money is better spent on kids than on prisons" he considers unnecessary, said Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, voted for the override, saying the prison system is "busting at the seams" and would be even more crowded if facilities are closed.

Last spring, lawmakers objected to Quinn's plan to close the high-security prison in Tamms, the women's lockup in Dwight, and youth detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. They sent him a budget that earmarked money to keep them open.

At the same time, they reduced Children and Family Services funding by $50 million -- on top of $36 million Quinn cut -- prompting a reorganization that will reduce the agency's head count by 188. The agency also is redirecting 95 management positions into posts such as investigators and intervention specialists who deal directly with children and families, DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said.

Quinn used his veto power to eliminate the prison money lawmakers appropriated. Wednesday's Senate vote would overrule that action if the House concurs.

Steve Brown, the spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said no decision on an override attempt has been made. Brown added that Madigan would undoubtedly hear from central and southern Illinois lawmakers whose districts rely heavily on the jobs that prisons provide.

Madigan did call a vote Wednesday on a resolution declaring the state has no money for pay raises in negotiated contracts with unionized state workers. On an 84-29 vote, the House approved the resolution as Quinn tries to impose a wage freeze on 40,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose last contract expired June 30.

Co-sponsor Rep. John Bradley said the General Assembly is tired of being saddled with paying the costs of lucrative contracts negotiated by governors.

"The days of people sending us the bills or making promises they can't keep are over," the Marion Democrat said. "We're out of money. We don't have a money tree."

Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, voted for the nonbinding pay freeze.

"There really isn't a lot of money" for raises, Tracy said.

That message was brought home by Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's report on tight cash flows. Tracy said state revenues are up from a few years ago, but spending is still too high. The state had $7 billion in overdue bills about a year ago and now the backlog is $8.9 billion, Tracy said.

In other action Wednesday, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, got exactly the 30 votes he needed to send to the House a measure requiring publicly traded corporations to publicize their Illinois income tax bills. Cullerton said it would help lawmakers decide tax policy and whether incentives they dole out to help businesses are worthwhile.

Business leaders oppose the bill as unfair and potentially damaging to competition.

Republicans, one of whom called it "anti-business, anti-employment," were offended by the atmosphere in which Cullerton announced the plan at a news conference organized by cheering, chanting Chicago-area activists.

"This is not a ‘gotcha' to the business community," Cullerton responded. "It's something that will help us have a better tax structure."

Sullivan voted against the bill, saying that is not the way to start a discussion on tax loopholes and incentives.

"To me, to ask a corporation to disclose their tax information, that doesn't seem to be the right way to approach things," Sullivan said.

Tracy said the legislation is "ludicrous" and she will oppose it in the House.

"How do you entice businesses to come to Illinois, to stay in Illinois? Do you want to harass them?" Tracy said.

Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs for the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, said the disclosure bill is "horrendous legislation."

"Illinois employers and those across the country are looking for some sign that we're turning the state around. This piece of legislation goes in exactly the opposite direction," Maisch said.

The Senate also rejected legislation that Quinn rewrote to ban assault weapons and sent the governor a plan he supports to subsidize state park repairs with a $2 license plate surcharge.

Tracy voted against the plan because of the license plate fee increase.

An anticipated House tally on allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes was put on hold as the Democratic sponsor continues to woo supporters.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.