Worried state employees staged informational pickets across Illinois on Thursday to oppose Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to close prisons and mental institutions.
They warned that Quinn's cost-cutting proposal could make prisons more crowded and dangerous, and that reducing state police dispatchers could affect public safety. They also criticized the Democratic governor for trying to lay people off when he says putting people to work is his top concern for the state.
"Quinn said he has a job program, but he wants to cut 3,000 jobs,'' said Jeff Bigelow, regional director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
He was among dozens of union members marching outside the governor's mansion in Springfield. Protesters came from the Tamms "supermax'' prison, the Jacksonville Developmental Center and other threatened facilities to chant "stop the cuts, show some guts.'' Many carried signs proclaiming, "No Quinn Cuts.''
Workers also were scheduled to march in Chicago and eight other spots around the state
In a statement Thursday, Quinn said the cuts are "hard but necessary'' with the state budget in turmoil year after year. His proposed budget would close 14 state facilities -- including juvenile prisons, halfway houses and institutions for people with mental illnesses and disabilities -- and lay off 1,100 state employees. He says the cuts will save more than $100 million.
"We need to stop being in denial," Quinn said.
Pam Lanter, who works at a state police telecommunication center in Litchfield, said cutting her emergency dispatching job means the work would have to be done by someone else who is less familiar with the area. That could mean dangerous delays when rural callers can only describe their location by local landmarks, she said.
And Randy Clark, a lieutenant at the Tamms prison, said Illinois needs a place to house its most violent offenders, such as the one he says stabbed him at another prison in 1992.
"There may be necessary cuts throughout the state, but I don't think closing the one and only supermax in the state is the answer,'' Clark said.
In Chicago, dozens of AFSCME workers picketed outside of downtown state government offices.
Pat Ousley of South Holland has worked for Illinois Department of Employment Security for more than three decades. She objected to Illinois giving tax incentives to companies such as Sears during such dire financial times. She said she would rather support another income tax increase than see jobs cut and facilities closed.