Legislators say governor may be bluffing
DIXON – Rumored for months, the governor’s state budget ax fell Thursday on the Jack Mabley Developmental Center.
The Dixon facility is one of seven run by the state that Gov. Pat Quinn said Thursday will be closed as a result of budget cuts made earlier this year by the Legislature.
But Quinn offered lawmakers an out to try to mitigate the damage and set up a potential showdown in the fall.
In addition to the Mabley Center, the governor announced he had begun the process to close a medium-security prison in Lincoln, a youth prison in Murphysboro and facilities for the mentally ill and disabled in Rockford, Jacksonville, Tinley Park and Chester. Those closures, along with cuts elsewhere in government, will eliminate 1,938 jobs.
“We clearly do not have enough money in the budget that was appropriated by the Legislature in the spring to pay the personnel and the facility costs of a number of our facilities,” Quinn said.
The governor is blaming the need for these cuts on the Legislature’s line-item budget that has a $2 billion shortfall.
“Members of the General Assembly cannot run away from what they did in the spring,” he said. “In the spring, they enacted, in some cases, draconian cuts in personnel line items for mental health, for developmental disabilities, for corrections and our prisons.”
During a 42-minute news conference, Quinn repeatedly blamed lawmakers for the cuts stemming from the budget they sent him in May that he could have vetoed but didn’t. He encouraged lawmakers, who come back to work in Springfield next month, to reallocate money to lessen the cuts or live with the consequences.
“It’s time for a rendezvous with reality and if you vote for something in the spring don’t run away from it in the fall,” Quinn said.
But state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said he thinks the governor is crying wolf, threatening cuts that are likely to cause protests to force the Legislature to give him the $2 billion he wants during its fall veto session.
“You keep your core services – public safety, to those with disabilities – and there’s other places you can cut,” he said.
State Rep. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, who also represents Dixon, said he’s going to fight for the center.
“We have heard these same types of threats so many times before from this governor,” he said in a release. “It makes it very difficult to put credibility into anything he says regarding state finances given his past track record.”
This isn’t the end of the process, however.
The closure of certain types of state facilities requires a public hearing and a 30-day public comment period.
The governor’s office puts the actually closing date for the Mabley Center as late February 2012 – one of the later closures. Layoffs in other departments that don’t involve closures will occur in November, and the Tinley Park facility is tentatively set to close Nov. 30.
In the meantime, the Department of Human Services, which runs the state’s developmental centers, will have to find new homes for Mabley’s 91 residents.
This move scares Barbara Cozzone Achino, president of Mabley’s parent association.
“I am holding this state responsible if my son beats himself to death because he cannot handle this change,” Achino said Thursday.
Her two sons, Michael and Bob Metallo, live at the center. Michael, who has fragile X syndrome, became blind through self-injury.
All residents will be evaluated to find out what their next step will be, department spokeswoman Januari Smith said.
Some will end up in community homes like those provided through Kreider Services. Others will be transferred to state or private facilities.
The Mabley Center is the only facility of its kind in northwestern Illinois.
“We will ensure that everyone will have the proper setting and the proper level of care,” Smith said.
Bivins said he is scheduling a meeting with the head of the department to address concerns like Achino’s, but that won’t happen until October.
Lynette Roach, who works at the Mabley Center, is worried too.
“It was very sad,” she said of the announcement. “There were a lot of very, very sad people. For the group of people that works at the Mabley Center, they’re not worried about their jobs, they’re worried about the people who live there.”
The Mabley Center has 163 employees. Roach works in the recycling department as a mental health technician and vocation instructor, and is the president of Local 172 there.
“I would not have a clue of what I would do,” she said. “This is what I’ve done for 17 years. I didn’t go to school for anything else.”
Roach has her teacher’s aide certificate and additional training to work with the developmentally disabled and in sign language, one of the specialties offered at Mabley Center.
She has five children, ranging in age from 10 to 20, who either go or went to Dixon schools.
“Going elsewhere is something I don’t even want to think about,” Roach said.
The governor had made a deal with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents public workers, not to close any facilities before July 1.
“Any layoff and any closure would be a direct violation of that agreement,” said AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall. “It would be a direct violation of the word the governor gave and AFSCME has shown that we will do whatever is necessary to see that the rights of our members under the contract and under the law are upheld.”
The union already has sued over pay raises Quinn canceled for about 30,000 state employees to save $76 million. A federal judge ruled Wednesday against Illinois state employees in that dispute and AFSCME plans to appeal.
Even with $76 million saved by canceling scheduled pay raises and the additional $54.8 million by closing the facilities, the gap in the operations and personnel budget still will be $182.8 million.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, intends to revisit the “shortcomings” of the budget, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.
“In days and weeks ahead, we will study the governor’s plans to determine what legislative action may be needed,” she said in a statement.
But Steve Brown, a spokesman for Democratic Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, said the budget recognized the tough financial times.
“This year the Legislature made a very serious effort at only spending what we thought was coming in,” Brown said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this story.
About the Mabley Center
What: The Jack Mabley Developmental Center is a campus-style facility run by the state for people with developmental disabilities.
Where: 1120 Washington Ave., Dixon
Annual operational cost: $10.7 million