Ill. House holds purse in battle over prison funds

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn vowed Wednesday to continue fighting to steer state money from prisons to child protection, after being rebuffed by the Senate on his plan to shutter state facilities.

On the second day of the General Assembly’s fall veto session, the Senate voted, 35-16, to override Quinn’s veto of $57 million approved by the Legislature to keep two prisons and two juvenile detention centers open. The governor will take his case to the House, where a second override vote would not force the Democratic governor to keep the prisons open, but would prohibit him from spending the money elsewhere despite the state’s dire financial situation.

Quinn aides said his message, as he crosses the Capitol rotunda in the coming days, is this: It’s a choice between spending on underutilized prisons or better protection against the abuse and neglect of children.

“He’s talking to lawmakers and will impress upon them that the money is better spent on kids than on prisons” he considers unnecessary, Quinn budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.

The House canceled Thursday’s portion of the fall session. A spokesman said the legislation’s House sponsor, Speaker Michael Madigan, has not decided whether to seek an override. The session’s final three days begin Tuesday.

Beside the override vote, the Senate adopted a plan Wednesday to require some corporations to disclose what they pay in income tax. The chamber also rejected legislation that Quinn rewrote to ban assault weapons and sent the governor a plan he supports to subsidize state park repairs with a $2 license plate surcharge.

The House adopted a resolution that recommends no pay raises this year for unionized state workers; set a special congressional election April 9 for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who resigned; and voted to give the Chicago Public Schools more time to announce what schools it plans to close.

An anticipated House tally on allowing marijuana for medicinal purposes was put on hold as the Democratic sponsor continues to woo supporters.

Last spring, lawmakers objected to Quinn’s plan to cut the budget by closing the high-security prison in Tamms, the women’s lockup in Dwight, and youth detention centers in Joliet and Murphysboro. They sent him a budget that earmarked money to keep them open.

At the same time, they reduced Children and Family Services funding by $50 million — on top of $36 million Quinn cut — prompting a reorganization that will reduce the agency headcount by 188.

It’s also redirecting 95 management positions to posts such as investigators and intervention specialists who deal directly with children and families, DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin said.

Quinn used his veto power to slice the prison money lawmakers appropriated, which was the action the Senate voted to reverse Wednesday.

Should the House follow the Senate’s lead and snub the governor, Quinn won’t be forced to spend the money to keep facilities open, but he’ll be unable to spend the money on anything else.

There are 49,000 inmates in adult prisons designed for 33,700. But the administration argues that Tamms and, for juveniles, Murphysboro, were not nearly full even before officials started moving residents, and that Dwight’s women can be housed elsewhere. The governor will ask lawmakers to spend the money on protecting children instead, Pallasch said.

“That’s the message they’ve been communicating to everyone for some time,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for Madigan, a Chicago Democrat. “Maybe it will take on some fresh energy.”

While Brown said Madigan has not decided on an override attempt, he undoubtedly will hear from central and southern Illinois lawmakers whose districts rely heavily on the jobs that prisons provide.

Madigan did call a vote Wednesday on a resolution declaring the state has no money for pay raises in negotiated contracts with unionized state workers. On an 84-29 vote, the House approved the resolution as Quinn tries to impose a wage freeze on 40,000 members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, whose last contract expired June 30.

Co-sponsor Rep. John Bradley said the General Assembly is tired of being saddled with paying the costs of lucrative contracts negotiated by governors.

“The days of people sending us the bills or making promises they can’t keep are over,” the Marion Democrat said. “We’re out of money. We don’t have a money tree.”

In the Senate, President John Cullerton got exactly the 30 votes he needed to send to the House a measure requiring publicly traded corporations to publicize their Illinois income tax bills. Cullerton said it would help lawmakers decide tax policy and whether incentives they dole out to help businesses are worthwhile.

Business leaders oppose the bill as unfair and potentially damaging to competition.

Republicans, one of whom called it “anti-business, anti-employment,” were offended by the atmosphere Tuesday in which Cullerton announced the plan at a news conference organized by cheering, chanting Chicago-area activists.

“This is not a ‘gotcha’ to the business community,” Cullerton responded. “It’s something that will help us have a better tax structure.”

The Senate also rejected Quinn’s attempt to change an ammunition-purchase bill into an assault weapons ban. The governor used his amendatory veto power to rewrite Sen. Dave Luechtefeld’s measure that would allow legal gun owners to buy ammunition through the mail from Illinois companies, as well as having it shipped from other states.

The 49-4 vote restores the original language and moves it to the House.

Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Quinn “will vigorously pursue this cause,” but did not divulge the governor’s strategy.

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Associated Press Writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report. Contact John O’Connor at http://www.twitter.com/apoconnor

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The bills are SB2474, HJR45, SB282, and SB681.

Online: http://www.ilga.gov

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