State closings hit a snag; facts are what’s needed
The following editorial appeared in The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill., on Wednesday, Sept. 5:
(MCT) — Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to close several state prison and other facilities has hit a snag.
The governor had planned to close several prisons, halfway houses and other Departments of Corrections facilities, including those located in Dwight, Tamms and Decatur, by Aug. 31. But that date came and went with the prisons still operating. The governor still seems intent on closing the facilities, but no new deadline has been set.
In the meantime, the governor’s office was ordered by an arbitrator to negotiate with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union that represents most prison workers. The arbitrator said the unions couldn’t extend negotiations unreasonably, but that the state has to bargain a closure plan.
To further complicate matters, members of the General Assembly are saying that if the prisons aren’t closed by the November veto session they may take action that would prevent Quinn’s plan from being enacted.
State Senate President John Cullerton recently told the Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale that he would work to overturn Quinn’s closure plan in November. Legislators already placed money in the state’s budget plan to keep the prisons open.
Quinn’s plan doesn’t have a lot of support in the General Assembly — a bill that would have moved the power to close facilities from the administrative to the legislative branch failed by one vote in the spring session.
There is no argument the state needs to spend less money and that will undoubtedly lead to the closing of some facilities. The state, to some degree, is paying for an era when new prisons were built as much for the jobs they created as for whether they were needed or efficiently run. The state’s facilities run the gamut from relatively new buildings to buildings that are more than a century old.
The weakness is Quinn’s plan is that it doesn’t appear to be a plan at all. The proper way to proceed with facility closing is to do a study that looks at all of the state’s facilities, projects the state’s needs into the future and then makes a recommendation based on facts.
No one is going to be happy with any closing plan, especially if it affects their hometown. Legislators with facilities in their districts are always going to fight to keep them open.
But a fact-based plan would focus the argument. Many critics say Quinn’s plan is arbitrary and note that most of the facilities are located downstate. Without a fact-based study, those criticisms have some validity.
The state needs to spend less money in order to extract itself from a long-term financial mess. Those plans need to be based, as much as possible, on facts and studies.