Some of governor’s $376-million budget veto could be spent to rescue Rockford’s Singer, six other state facilities from closure

By Andrew Thomason
Illinois Statehouse News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) used his veto pen in an attempt to cut $376 million from the $33.2 billion budget the Legislature sent him this spring, but lawmakers and Quinn already might have found a new way to spend the money.

The Legislature didn’t address Quinn’s actions during the first week of its fall veto session. It now has just three scheduled session days to decide whether to try to restore the reductions, or do nothing and let them become reality.

Instead of reversing Quinn’s actions, the idea that seems to be solidifying among lawmakers involves taking a good portion of what Quinn vetoed — between $230 million and $250 million — to fund the seven facilities Quinn has targeted for closure because a lack of money, according to House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.

That would keep their operations going and would keep the closures from happening,” Cross said at a news conference last week.

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke said keeping the Jack Mabley Development Center open and its 163 employees working to help the developmentally disabled is paramount.

I’d be really pleased if we were able to keep it open, both from the human standpoint of these residents who are getting real care, and from the economics standpoint in terms of jobs,” Burke said. “We would be dancing in the streets if we could keep the place open.”

The six other facilities slated for closer are Chester Mental Health Center in Chester; Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford; Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park; Jacksonville Developmental Center in Jacksonville; Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro; and Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.

Quinn’s office estimates that it will cost $313 million, or about $64 million more than Cross’ number, to keep the facilities open through June 30.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, was the original sponsor of the budget legislation that Quinn altered. And now it’s up to Madigan to decide whether to call those vetoes for an override vote. So far, no override motion has been filed.

Several calls to Madigan’s office were not returned.

Quinn’s cuts this summer came in the form of $276 million from Medicaid, $89 million for school transportation and more than $11 million for regional offices of education. Last month, Quinn announced he was shuttering the seven state facilities and laying off about 2,000 workers because the Legislature didn’t budget enough money.

To reallocate any of the $376 million, lawmakers have to pass a measure through the same legislative process any other law must go through. Funding for the seven state facilities could be rushed through the General Assembly in the three days left of the fall veto session.

If the legislators vote during veto session to use some of Quinn’s vetoed money to keep the state facilities open, there will be some money left over. How that money is spent likely won’t be decided as quickly, according to state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, who helped negotiate the budget.

There are still funds that we can appropriate later. We don’t necessarily have to do it all at once,” Harris said. “There are certainly demands that are going to be out there that people wanted funded … or we could just pay down old bills.”

The state currently owes between $4 billion and $5 billion on overdue bills to schools, social service providers and other vendors.

Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business association, agreed with Harris that overdue bills should be a priority of the Legislature.

Essentially, the state’s vendors have been floating involuntary loans to the state for many months on end. It’s a simple issue of fairness and how you do business in the state,” Maisch said.

Quinn’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said it is working with the Legislature to agree on where to spend the money the governor vetoed.

Kelly Kraft, a spokesman for OMB, said: “Gov. Quinn wants to work with the legislative caucuses to determine how best to identify and utilize any additional funds. Beyond the needs of the agencies (that run the seven state facilities), there remains great necessity in the areas of education, health care and public safety.”

Legislative leaders, including Madigan and Cross, will be talking with Quinn this week on the budget. The General Assembly returns to the Capitol Nov. 8.

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