Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Thursday threatened to fire almost two thousand state workers. He also moved to close a handful of prisons and facilities for people with disabilities, setting up a game of chicken with the legislature.
One-thousand-nine-hundred and thirty-eight workers would be laid off, and seven facilities closed, including a central Illinois prison, and a mental health hospital in Tinley Park. Quinn insisted he is bound by the budget the legislature sent him, which he said includes "draconian" cuts.
"And so any member of the General Assembly who doesn't like what I said today, in terms of closures and layoffs, they have to realize that they voted for this," Quinn said at a Chicago press conference. "That's what they voted for in the spring. I'm carrying it out - responsibly - but we have to do it."
The governor signed that budget earlier this summer, but is asking the legislature to reallocate more than $300 million in spending. He said if lawmakers take that action when they meet next month, the cuts he announced Thursday may be avoided.
The closures and layoffs wouldn't take effect for several months. A legislative committee will examine Quinn's proposal, but does not have the power to block it.
Meantime, the major public employees union in Illinois, AFSCME, said it will fight Quinn's plan.
"These cuts would throw those thousands - up to 2,000 working men and women out of a job, people who get up to work every day and do often thankless, frequently difficult and - in the prisons and elsewhere - very dangerous work, the real work of state government," said Anders Lindall, an AFSCME spokesman.
Lindall says Quinn's proposal would effectively break a contract agreement prohibiting faciltiy closures or layoffs through mid-2012. He said the union would fight the moves, either by appealing to a contract arbitrator, or by going to the courts.
Such a battle could be avoided, the union said, if the legislature appropriates more money. But the governor should not count on support from Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine.
Quinn "has come here to lecture the General Assembly to spend even more," Murphy said in a press conference immediately following the governor's. "That tax increase that was sold as temporary - how temporary does it look right now when it doesn't even pay the bills we have today?"
House Republican Leader Tom Cross questioned the facilities Quinn picked for closure, accusing Quinn of targeting "Republican facilities and Republican jobs."
"This appears to be a quid pro quo by the governor to get votes for more spending that he wants," Cross said in a statement. "If we are going to cut – we need to let the cuts stand.”
But Senate President John Cullerton, whose Democrats control the state Senate, has "already stated his intent to revisit the shortcomings of the budget that was passed this spring," according to his spokeswoman.