Fate of state facilities coming down to the wire
CARBONDALE, Ill. — Right now, hope is the only thing nearly 500 state employees in the local area have. They're shocked by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn's determination to close three state facilities.
The governor's office confirmed Tuesday they're moving forward with plans to close Tamms Correctional Center, the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro and an Adult Transitional Center in Carbondale.
Southern Illinois lawmakers are sounding off. They're angry because they said the budget passed by the General Assembly has funding in it to keep facilities like Tamms open. They point to $8 million in that budget that could repurpose Tamms, allowing it to be used as a regular prison instead of a supermax.
Wednesday morning, lawmakers, union representatives and workers gathered outside Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon's Carbondale office to speak out on the matter.
"There was some hope and I still have hope," said Connie Ashworth.
Ashworth has worked at Tamms since it opened. She protested in March to keep her job. Now, three months later, she's a bit subdued by the latest word.
"That took a lot of people down and we just have to keep sticking together," she said. "We have to keep our heads up and keep fighting."
Downstate lawmakers are angry at Quinn's plans. They said everything was settled weeks ago in the budget.
"We have our word," said Rep. Mike Bost. "Our word is our bond. If you can't do it, tell us you can't do it. But don't come out and play games with this and then go back on your word."
Representative Brandon Phelps said the money is there to keep Tamms, so he doesn't know why the governor won't go along with the plan.
"It's cowardly and that's all you can say," said Phelps. "We thought we had an agreement. We put the money back in the budget to keep these facilities open. We made sure that we put the money back in to repurpose Tamms, so he doesn't have the excuse that it's a torture chamber as he calls it."
For Connie Ashworth, all she can do is wait and hope the news will come for her and hundreds of others in the next few days.
"Deep down, I feel we're staying open," said Ashworth.
Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon was not at the news conference Wednesday morning outside her office. A spokesperson said she was in Chicago for an event that had been planned for some time.
Her office released a statement saying Simon stands behind the governor's efforts to reduce spending in the state so Illinois can live within its means.
Representatives with the AFSCME Union said the final decision on which facilities will stay open and which ones will close only comes with a signed budget from the governor. He must sign it by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which is July 1.