CARBONDALE — Tempers and emotions ran high Wednesday morning, as lawmakers and workers gathered in opposition of Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close several large state facilities, including three in Southern Illinois.
From prison guards to labor union presidents to state representatives and senators — from both sides of the political aisle — the message Monday morning was the same.
All bashed Quinn and his decision to close the facilities, which was made official in a memo sent to some state workers Tuesday. Included on the closure list are Tamms Correctional Center, Illinois Youth Center Murphysboro and Southern Illinois Adult Transition Center in Carbondale.
“This is an all-out attack on working men and women,” state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said. “This is an all-out attack on downstate and Southern Illinois.”
Phelps also called it “cowardly” for Quinn’s staff to send a fax informing the correctional centers of his decision instead of announcing it himself.
Democrats and Republicans alike took shots at Quinn.
State Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, suggested that if Tamms inmates need to be moved, they either be let free in Chicago or housed in the governor’s mansion.
“This governor does not care about Southern Illinois,” Forby said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The lone Republican lawmaker to speak, state Rep. Mike Bost, was equally critical.
Bost said he believed there was an agreement that Quinn would keep the facilities open if lawmakers passed certain bills, and he believes Quinn broke his word.
“I’m sick of it. I’m angry, I’m frustrated,” Bost said. “If we had the power, we would recall him.”
Nearly everyone who spoke at the rally urged Quinn to sign the budget given to him by the Legislature, which includes funding for the facilities in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
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In a statement Tuesday night, a Quinn budget spokeswoman said “these closures will allow the state to live better within our means and address the state’s most pressing needs.”
Wednesday’s rally was outside the Illinois Department of Transportation District 9 office in Carbondale, which houses the Southern Illinois office of Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
Several prison workers and supporters were at the rally, with many holding signs that either showed their backing of the correctional facilities, or their frustration with Quinn and Simon.
Several prison employees said they were particularly dismayed with Simon, a Carbondale resident.
Simon’s staff, meanwhile, emailed a statement Wednesday morning:
“The lieutenant governor appreciates the many people who have expressed their opinions on facility closures, as well as Gov. Quinn for taking the difficult but necessary steps to address the budget challenges we inherited after decades of fiscal mismanagement,” the statement said.
“While his decision to downsize corrections and juvenile justice facilities and restructure Medicaid brings Illinois closer to living within our means, we must achieve meaningful pension reform to end the squeeze on funding for public safety, education and other critical services.”
Randy Clark, who works at Tamms, said he and his co-workers are in limbo.
“Nobody knows what to do next. Nobody can plan. We’re still a couple months out from the closure date, but naturally, people want to keep our jobs,” he said. “The bigger issue is, every one of us down there that works there, we know that Tamms works.”
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