Fight to keep Tamms open lies with legislature

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Kendall Downing

TAMMS, Ill. — They got their layoff notices Monday. Now almost 300 employees at Tamms Correctional Center hope the Illinois legislature will fund the facility in next year's budget. 

That's the only way it will stay open.

A preliminary budget in the Illinois Senate has funds marked for Tamms. But that proposal has not been discussed in the Illinois House.

The final word on the proposed closures would come from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's office when he signs the budget into law.

Time is ticking for those lawmakers to make those tough choices.

It was a packet of information Toby Oliver didn't want to see.

"The last month we thought that we were in good shape as far as staying open," said Oliver, Tamms Union president.

Hundreds of employees at Tamms got walking papers Monday. The future of the state's only super-max prison and its employees will be decided in about a week.

"That's what I'm trying to do right now is make sure that my colleagues from either up north or downstate, Republican or Democrat, would go along and try to put Tamms in the budget," said Rep. Brandon Phelps.

Toby Oliver said employees at Tamms thought they were safe, given a state advisory panel's recommendation that they stay open.

"You get a little up note there and then you come to the layoff notices, and you get a down note. So, it's understandably distressing," said Oliver.

The layoff notices come with new applications and information about open state jobs across Illinois.

Downstate lawmakers want to do whatever it takes to keep the money here, even if that means changing the way the prison is operated.

"My main deal right now is to keep Tamms open, whether it's just a super-max or regular facility, because southern Illinois cannot afford to lose those jobs or that revenue," said Phelps.

Tamms employees and AFSCME union representatives will be making another trip to Springfield Wednesday to plead their case for keeping the prison open.

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