Pat Quinn Budget Address: Illinois To Slash Spending, Close Prisons

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has had a rough year. The state's credit rating was downgraded, he has been berated by Republican governors in other states for his handling of the record deficit and was bullied into approving sweeping tax breaks to convince many Illinois businesses to stay put -- which was somewhat unappreciated.

State Republicans say Quinn's approach to the budget doesn't cut deep enough, while everyone from mental health advocates to employees of state correctional facilities say he is betraying them.

On Wednesday afternoon, Quinn laid out his 2013 budget plan, which includes closing several state facilities, layoffs and cuts to state agencies. Quinn also said the state needs to cut $2.7 billion in Medicaid spending, which the Chicago Tribune reports could impact health care for poor residents most of all.

"This budget contains truths you may not want to hear," Quinn said, according to the Tribune. "But these are truths that you do need to know. And I believe you can handle the truth."

Despite the state's massive deficit, Quinn's budget includes a $33.8 billion spending plan, which the Chicago Sun-Times reports is up 1.5 percent from last year. And while pension costs are thought by many to be the main issue facing Illinois fiscally, he only vaguely addressed the issue, saying a panel of lawmakers would submit their ideas for pension reforms in mid-April.

The hardest hit by the cuts, however, will be the Illinois Department of Corrections. A super-maximum security prison in Tamms, Ill. which has been accused of inhumane treatment of inmates is now heading for the chopping block. The Sun-Times reports that closing the facility could save taxpayers $21.6 million in the next year, and $26.6 million every year after. Violent inmates from Tamms would be moved to the Pontiac Correctional Center, and others would go to prisons nearby. The closure will likely make some human rights groups in the state happy:

Most Tamms inmates spend 23 hours a day alone, where their “universe of gray” is only interrupted by a sliver of the blue sky visible from a small window above, the group said. Prisoners aren’t permitted to work or mingle too much with fellow prisoners and had access to only one computer to communicate with loved ones.

Aside from the Tamms closure, Quinn also wants to shutter a women's prison in Dwight, Ill., juvenile justice centers in Joliet and Murphysboro and adult transition centers statewide. Four mental health institutions may also be closed.

According to Bloomberg Business, Illinois has cut mental health spending by 12 percent since 2009. The cuts come after Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart called on the state to change its approach to treating mentally ill residents. Dart said his jail has become the "largest mental health center in the state" and plans to sue if something is not done about it.

"People who should be being treated in the community with, in some cases, mild mental health issues, are not getting any treatment whatsoever, and as a result, they’re ending up in our jail, which I can’t conceive of anybody saying that that is the best place to treat someone with a mental illness," Dart told CBS.

The state's $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills will reportedly not increase with the new budget, but there is no plan to pay them off, either. The Sun-Times reports that Quinn's plan only puts $163 million toward existing debts.

Quinn, who referred to his plan as a "rendezvous with reality," also said the state can save $75 million by closing tax loopholes. Though he didn't offer specifics on pension reform, he did say pensions will cost Illinois $5.2 million in the next fiscal year.

“The truth is that over the past 35 years, too many governors and members of the General Assembly have clung to budget fantasies rather than confronting hard realities, especially with respect to pension and Medicaid investments,” Quinn said.

Some Republican lawmakers, however, believe Quinn is doing the same thing.

“All this stuff we’re doing in getting rid of … closing prisons and closing mental health facilities, that doesn’t do a thing to fix it. It has got to be dealt with in the state public pension side," Republican State Treasurer Dan Rutherford said, according to CBS Chicago.

Even Quinn's Democratic counterparts are frustrated with a lack of action on public pensions -- which budget watchdog groups say is the number one issue impacting the state's struggling budget.

“That was the part that was most disappointing for us,” Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, told the Sun-Times. “We were expecting between the State of the State and budget addresses, that would have gotten a little more specific.”