By Benjamin Yount
Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois’ seven endangered prisons and mental health facilities will stay open for at least the next six months after lawmakers gave Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) the power to shift nearly $300 million inside the state budget.
But more importantly, lawmakers also said they sent the governor this clear message: He must not threaten to close state facilities to get what he wants from the state budget.
Lawmakers approved this new spending authority for Quinn Nov. 29. The House approved it with a 92-20 vote and the Senate with a 50-5 vote.
The money, which was taken from Illinois’ regional superintendents, school transportation accounts and the Medicaid budget by delaying payment on more Medicaid bills, will keep the seven sites open through the end of June.
The sites are H. Douglas Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford; Chester Mental Health Center in Chester; Tinley Park Mental Health Center in Tinley Park; Jacksonville Developmental Center in Jacksonville; Jack Mabley Developmental Center in Dixon; Illinois Youth Camp Murphysboro in Murphysboro; and Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln.
Quinn has said he wants to close Illinois’ “institutional sites” and move residents with mental health issues to community care centers. That means the long-term future of the Singer, Tinley Park, Mabely and Jacksonville centers is still in doubt.
Little support exists in the Legislature to close the Logan Correctional Center, Murphysboro youth camp or Chester Mental Health Center because of safety concerns. Murphysboro is home to dozens of juvenile inmates and Chester to inmates receiving mental health treatment rather than serving prison terms.
A final decision on the future of the Singer, Tinley Park, Mabely and Jacksonville centers is expected in the spring. And state Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Hinsdale, said Quinn will need to play a role in the decision.
“I see that the governor is starting to show that he wants to work with the legislators and share ideas,” Bellock said.
Lawmakers and statehouse insiders have criticized Quinn for introducing a budget plan, then walking away from the budget-making process. Bellock said the governor cannot take that approach this spring.
University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor Kent Redfield is quick to say Quinn’s critics are not wrong.
“I think it’s a fair criticism to say Gov. Quinn was absent from the budget-making process last year,” Redfield said.
The professor said Quinn can play a role in crafting the next state budget, but he must show lawmakers he can change.
“People have an image of Pat Quinn as full of bombast,” said Redfield. “I think it’s going to take real work on the part of the governor to change that image.”
State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who helped write the Democratic spending plan last spring, said he expects Quinn to do that hard work.
“I think the governor will be more engaged, earlier on,” Mautino said. “I think the governor is going to be more active, because next year’s budget is going to be more difficult than this year.”
Illinois will need the following:
• At least $1 billion more to cover rising pension costs;
• $490 million for rising Medicaid costs; and
• $1.5 billion for unpaid Medicaid bills from this year.
And lawmakers will be seeking more money for schools or social service programs that some say have been shorted in funds during the past few years.
State Rep. Will Davis, D-Crestwood, another Democratic budget architect, said he opposes another austere budget because he cannot tell his schools they will once again have to do with less.
“In some cases, some of us wanted to say there is an opportunity to add additional dollars to other things,” Davis added.
Davis said he will not support another legislative cap on state spending, but lawmakers may have to craft a budget that relies on less money than the current spending plan.
Lawmakers are expected to have a new state budget in place by May 31. Illinois’ current budget expires June 30.