Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Aside from facility closings, Quinn's budget plan likely to be short on details

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget proposal  on Wednesday will call for the closure of more than a dozen state facilities, but will likely run short on specifics about reforming the state’s costly Medicaid and pension systems.

Top members of Quinn’s staff said in a budget briefing this evening that the governor plans to propose closing14 state facilities, including prisons, youth prisons, mental health centers, centers for the developmentally disabled and adult transition centers, which work to get newly released inmates back on their feet. The list includes:

  • Tamms "super-max" prison
  • Dwight Correctional Center 
  • Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford
  • Murray Developmental Center in Centralia
  • Jacksonville Developmental Center 
  • Tinley Park Mental Health Center 
  • Joliet Juvenile Justice Center 
  • Murphysboro Juvenile Justice Center 
Quinn also plans to propose closing two adult transition centers in Chicago, as well as centers in Peoria, Decatur, Aurora and Carbondale. According to budget documents provided by Quinn’s office, the closures will result in 1,112 layoffs.

Lawmakers and advocates alike balked at Quinn’s long list of proposed closures. “This is an absolute nightmare. I was afraid Governor Quinn’s budget would put the Murray Center in its sights. Does the administration have an idea what this will do to the patients, families and the city of Centralia? I have met with the administration officials and thought that they would have some legitimate long-term strategy on this issue – but they do not,” Sen. John Jones, a Mt. Vernon Republican, said in a prepared statement. “Since they initially floated this idea last year, the economy in Centralia has slumped. Well, now that these plans are at least laid out, it’s time to dig in, and I vow to oppose the closure plans.”

Quinn has said he plans to transition residents and patients in mental health and developmental care into community based setting that would be less costly and provide a better quality of care. A budget document from Quinn’s office said that his Fiscal Year 2013 budget will include money to transition people from institutions to community care.

The plan calls for moving about half of the fewer than 400 Tamms inmates to the maximum-security wing of the Pontiac Correctional Center. Tamms holds especially violent or disruptive prisoners who have been deemed too dangerous to house in the general prison population. According to budget documents from Quinn's office, the other half would be “relocated accordingly.” The about 1,000 inmates currently locked up at the Dwight prison, which is a women’s facility, would be moved to the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, which would be converted to an all female prison. Male prisoners from Logan would be moved to the Lincoln Correctional Center, which would be converted to an all male center.

Dwight is currently the state’s only level-one maximum security lockup for female prisoners. It is the processing center for female prisoners and also houses lower security inmates. “Dwight not a perfect place, but compared to other facilities in the DOC, there’s a lot going right with Dwight,” said John Maki, executive director of the prison watchdog group John Howard Association. Maki said that he does not envision any workable scenario for closing Dwight. “This would be impossible. This is not a serious proposal.”

 Quinn’s budget staff said former inmates would still receive the services, such as vocational training and addiction treatment, provided by the adult transition centers. “Instead of doing that from these adult transition centers located all over the state…they’re going to do it on electronic detention,” said David Vaught, Quinn’s budget director.”

Quinn’s budget proposal will also call for elimination of 24 out of the 90 Department of Human Services offices through consolidation. The plan also calls for the elimination of four Department of Child and Family Services offices from which Vaught said employees would be transferred. “They’re not going to reduce employees. They’re not going to reduce services," Vaught said of the consolidations. The proposal calls for the elimination of one of the state’s two agriculture laboratories, as well. A lab in Centralia would close, and a lab in Galesburg would remain open. “Everybody in the state is going to be affected by this downsizing of state government and this closing of state facilities,” Vaught said.

 Jack Lavin, Quinn’s chief of staff said, “Every year, we say, ‘This is the toughest budget,’ and I’m saying again this year, ‘This is the toughest budget we’ve ever faced.’”

However, Quinn also plans to call for some new spending. The governor wants a $20 million increase for early childhood education and a $50 million increase for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants for college students. Both areas have been cut in recent budget years. The governor also plans to revisit tax cut proposals pitched in his State of the State address as ways to spur economic growth in the state. Quinn also plans to propose new capital spending on schools, water systems and deferred maintenance at state facilities. His budget staff said that he does not have a specific estimate for how much new capital borrowing would be needed for such projects. They said new revenues would be needed to fund the projects but did not point to any one source. “We need to make sure that it’s not just about cutting. It’s about building and growing,” Lavin said of Quinn’s proposal.

What Quinn likely won’t give many details on are the two biggest budget issues he is looking to tackle this year: reforms to the Medicaid and public employee pension systems.

Quinn wants to hold Medicaid spending flat, which would mean staving off an estimated $2.7 billion in costs for FY 13. Stermer said that Quinn wants to work with legislators so see what changes can be made to state laws. He pointed to the list of services provided and said the governor wants to partner with legislators and reevaluate all services that are not required by the federal government. He said the state needs to step up implementation of managed care programs and focus on providing the consistent medical care people need to stay healthy. “We need to convert this whole thing to a wellness program,” he said. “We’re not just going to wait for people to go from provider to provider to provider and just pay the bills.” He called pushing Medicaid costs into future budget years — as lawmakers did with about $2 billion Medicaid bills that will carry over into next fiscal year — “a recipe for collapse of the Medicaid program.”

As for pension reform, Stermer said the working group he is heading is trying to tackle the issue, and any reforms they propose would be vetted by the standard legislative process. So it is unlikely Quinn will pitch anything too specific Wednesday. “We’re doing something very very akin to formal negotiations with stakeholders,” Stermer said.

Quinn is scheduled to present his budget Wednesday at noon.


Anonymous,  8:36 PM  

We're all doomed.

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