By Benjamin Yount | Watchdog.org
SPRINGFIELD — The state’s largest public employee union has run out of courtrooms to argue against Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close four state correctional facilities.
But the union, and some lawmakers, aren’t giving up.
The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared a path for Quinn to close the Tamms Correctional Center, the Dwight Correctional Center, and juvenile justice camps in Joliet and downstate Murphysboro by ordering an end to the legal wrangling between the governor’s office and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union. AFSCME, which represents 75,000 current and retired state workers, said closing the prions was unsafe for the prison guards, as the inmates would be moved to other facilities, increasing the respective populations.
“The governor won this round with the unions,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville. “But there will be more rounds in this fight.”
Luechtefeld is one of eight downstate Republican senators who campaigned as fiscal conservatives to try to keep the prisons open.
“Voters understand that we are representing our district,” Luechtefeld said even as he admitted Illinois cannot afford to keep open every state facility.
“It’s dissegenous to say the nothing should close, because the state is going broke.”
Taxpayer watchdog and former GOP candidate for governor Adam Andrzejewski said Luechtefeld is like many lawmakers who have confused the good of the state with what’s good on Election Day.
“Some lawmakers support taxpayer-funded government jobs in their districts to the detriment of taxpayers statewide,” Andrzejewski said. “Presently, no one in Springfield is looking out for taxpayers.”
State Sen. Dan Kotowki, D-Park Ridge, said Illinois has to look at what is best for the state’s 13-million people, not just lawmakers and connected unions.
“What are we doing as a state? What are we doing to serve the common good?” Kotowski asked. “The reality is the state of Illinois is broke. We don’t have the money.”
Kotowski was one of 16 state senators who voted against trying to direct dollars toward the closing prisons. He said it’s a common-sense vote.
But AFSCME is vowing to fight on. Spokesman Anders Lindall said three members of the Supreme Court thought time to hear arguments remained.
“The ruling was 4-3, a bare majority of justices prevailing on a closely divided court,” Lindall said. “The four justices in the majority did not explain their decision.”
AFSCME has fought prison closings for years as a safety issue, but the union has also battled with Quinn over pay and benefit increases.
This week’s Supreme Court ruling is the second blow to AFSCME in its legal battles against Quinn over state dollars. In early December, Circuit Court Judge Richard Billik ruled that the Quinn administration does not have to pay the union-promised raises because there is no money for pay increases. The judge said Illinois will eventually have to make good on the promised pay bumps, but his ruling said AFSCME could not force the state to pay immediately.
“I think all Illinois workers, retirees and their unions in general are disturbed at the governor’s actions,” Lindall said.
But Steve Stanek, a research fellow with the Heartland Institute, a nonprofit, free-market research organization, said Quinn’s actions in fighting with AFSCME are new, and may not be long-lived.
“Pat Quinn wants to tax, he wants to impose more fees, and he wants to spend money like there’s no tomorrow,” Stanek said. “This is in his nature. This is what he wants to do.”
Contact Benjamin Yount at [email protected]
Jayette Bolinksi contributed to this story.