Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $33.7 billion state budget Saturday that blocks the spending of millions of dollars the legislature had allocated for prisons and mental health facilities that he is intent on shutting down to reduce costs.
The action sets the stage for another fight between the governor and lawmakers later this fall on how to spend the $57 million Quinn blocked. The governor made it clear he would like to re-direct at least some of that money to the state agency in charge of caring for neglected and abused children.
The budget adopted by the General Assembly in May cut funds for the Department of Children and Family Services by $50 million. But to restore some of that by redirecting the prison funds, the governor will have to get lawmakers to go along.
"I think the cuts that I've made ... should be considered for reallocation when the General Assembly comes back in the late part of November and into December," Quinn told reporters in Chicago after signing the budget. "I think it's important that we put a priority on children, especially abused and neglected children in Illinois."
The governor's plan to close prisons has generated opposition from unions representing prison staff and from Republican and Democratic lawmakers representing those areas. Quinn argues facilities like the supermax prison at Tamms — which is half empty and where the cost of housing inmates in isolation is three times higher than at other prisons — are too expensive to keep open when the budget is so strained.
Opponents are worried about the jobs that will be lost and about the impact of moving prisoners to other facilities in Illinois' already badly overcrowded prison network.
"It's wrong to whipsaw taxpayers between safe prisons and safe kids. That's a false choice," said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the largest union of state workers in Illinois, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31.
"Rather than threatening irresponsible cuts to the state's overcrowded and understaffed correctional system as the price of preventing disastrous reductions to child welfare, the governor should make clear to the General Assembly that its ... cut to DCFS staff is unworkable and must be restored," he said.
Quinn's plan also would close a prison in Dwight as well as half-way houses and two juvenile detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro.
At his news conference, the governor did not highlight any other changes from the budget blueprint approved by the General Assembly.
It cuts education funding by $200 million and child-welfare spending by $85 million.