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Vandalia, Taylorville prison workers to feel impact of budget woes

Vandalia, Taylorville prison workers to feel impact of budget woes

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' deepening budget problems could begin affecting the paychecks of nearly 5,000 prison workers starting in the coming weeks, an analysis of state payroll information shows.

According to records at the Illinois Comptroller's office, at least five of the state's fleet of more than two dozen prisons do not appear to have enough money to meet payroll through the end of the state's fiscal year.

The analysis by The Southern's Springfield bureau shows prisons that will run short of cash include facilities in Vandalia, Taylorville, Mount Sterling, Sumner and Jacksonville.

The prison payroll dilemma — estimated by the Illinois Department of Corrections at over $70 million — is just one piece of a politically tricky financial puzzle waiting to be addressed by state lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner as the clock ticks down toward the June 30 end of the current fiscal year.

In addition to the prison shortfall, the state also is running short of money to pay for a child care program after the temporary income tax increase expired on Jan. 1.

Democrats who control the Senate have offered Rauner the option of siphoning money out of a number of special state funds to help fill the gap, but the plan has not moved forward.

Rauner, a Republican, has said he wants a more comprehensive solution to address the overall $1.6 billion hole.

According to the analysis, records show the minimum-security prison in Vandalia has $6.1 million left in its budget for payroll. But, based on average monthly payroll costs, it would need an estimated $7.3 million to fully pay workers through June 30.

Similarly, the minimum-security lock-up in Taylorville is running an estimated $1.2 million short of payroll heading into the final 100 days of the fiscal year.

Those findings are backed by the Department of Corrections, which said employees at Vandalia, Taylorville and Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling will be the first to be impacted by the state's money woes.

"The IDOC needs just over $117 million dollars to maintain operations through the end of this Fiscal Year; $70.8 million of that is for payroll," noted Corrections spokeswoman Nicole Wilson in an email Tuesday.

Wilson said another 4,000 workers at 11 facilities — plus general office staff — could be affected beginning in early May.

Under the structure of the current budget, Rauner would need legislative approval to transfer money between prisons to ensure workers get paid.

He acknowledged the problems during an unrelated speech in the capital city Tuesday.

"It's a mess. It's a fiasco," Rauner said. The governor did not respond to questions from reporters afterwards.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said he hasn't yet heard from any workers at the Vandalia prison he represents. But, he said the problem has "got to be figured out."

"I don't think there is any lack of a sense of urgency," McCarter said. "We're ready to make a deal. But that deal is not up to us."

Rather, he said Democrats who control the House and Senate must work with Rauner to craft a solution.

The shortage is among the first challenges awaiting the new director of the 11,300-employee agency. On Monday, Rauner nominated Donald Stolworthy, 54, to replace former prison chief S.A. "Tony" Godinez.

Stolworthy is a former official with the Alaska prison system and most recently has worked for the U.S. State Department assessing foreign prison systems.

kurt.erickson@lee.net / 217-782-4043

On Twitter: @Illinois_Stage

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