By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn says he may have to make drastic cuts and violate an agreement made with public unions to stretch the state budget through the end of the current fiscal year.
The Chicago Tribune reported today that Quinn plans to lay off thousands of state workers and close several sate facilities. Potentially on the list for closure are prisons, juvenile detention centers and mental health hospitals, according to the Tribune. Quinn would not say which facilities would be slated for closure or how many state workers would be out of a job, only saying that his plan would be carried out in an “orderly way according to the law.” Quinn told reporters in Chicago today that he plans to give more details about the layoffs later this week. “It’s very clear that as we went through this fiscal year, we’re going to come up short in a lot of departments. So we have to act now so we don’t come up short,” he said.
Quinn argues that the budget sent to him by lawmakers will not fully fund state agencies through the year. “There’s no question that their decisions will result in a situation where our state won’t have enough money to get through the fiscal year, so we have to make reductions. I’m prepared to do what has to be done,” Quinn said. The governor refused to give union members raises that are included in their contracts because he says lawmakers did not include the money for pay increases in the budget. The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees has sued the state over the raises.
If he lays off state workers, the governor will violate an agreement he made with unions shortly before his election last year. Quinn says that such agreement, as well as bargained contracts, are subject to the spending authority given by lawmakers. “The law of Illinois is crystal clear. Everybody knows what it is. … If the General Assembly appropriates less money, then everyone has to adjust to that.”
Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, said Quinn has not notified his organization about any plans to close facilities or layoff workers. “This course of action would be in direct violation of negotiated agreements with our union. Moreover, it would have a dire impact on the maintenance of public safety and the delivery of services of vital importance to the people of Illinois,” Bayer said in a written statement.
Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, speculated that Quinn may be threatening closures to put pressure on the legislature to make budget changes. “This is a governor who just flips and flops and backs out on every promise he made,” Brady told WJBC. “The games he plays are costly.” He said the deal Quinn made with public employee unions would have been impossible to honor, given the state’s dire fiscal situation. “It was a simple political solution for him at the time.” Quinn’s narrow victory over Brady in the gubernatorial race came in part because of union driven get-out-the-vote efforts. Quinn did not seem concerned today about losing the backing of organized labor, a long-time Democratic ally in the state. “I have many many friends in labor. I have enjoyed their support, and I will continue to enjoy their support, and I look forward to working with members of labor on all kinds of battles ahead."
Brady said he thinks any facility closures will be politically motivated and concentrated in Republican lawmakers’ legislative districts.
Quinn says he is willing to work with lawmakers to tweak the budget in other ways. “We can come together, the legislature and the governor. And if they want to make adjustments on their decisions of the spring, I am willing to negotiate and have a dialogue with them.” Quinn has a history of threatening budget reductions that make splashy headlines and outrage groups that are willing and able to raise a fuss publicly and put pressure on lawmakers, only to later roll back the cuts. However, several other states—including many of Illinois’ Midwestern neighbors—are targeting unions for cost savings since the financial collapse and ensuing recession.