Lawmakers look to pare down Quinn hiring plan

2013-05-22T00:00:00Z Lawmakers look to pare down Quinn hiring planKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
May 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | Illinois lawmakers are taking a hatchet to Gov. Pat Quinn’s plan to hire new workers in the coming fiscal year.

As members of the House and Senate work to piece together a spending plan before they are scheduled to leave town on May 31, the governor’s push to hire new prison guards, state police troopers and welfare workers is being weighed against his plan to reduce funding for other state programs.

In the Senate, for example, Democrats who control the chamber say they plan to eliminate one of three requested training classes for cadets at the Illinois State Police.

Senators also may reduce the number of new workers Quinn wants in the overcrowded state prison system, said state Sen. Heather Steans, D-Chicago, who is helping to craft the budget blueprint in the Senate.

Cuts to Quinn’s request could be even deeper in the House.

“The governor wants a 10 percent increase in the Department of Corrections and we’re looking to cut the department by 3 percent,” said state Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill.

The governor’s push for hiring comes as the state workforce has dropped below the 50,000 level, largely because of the retirement of more than 5,500 workers in the past 19 months. As part of his overall $35.6 billion budget proposal, Quinn wants to boost the number of employees to about 53,000.

Among the planned hires will be prison guards. The budget calls for holding four cadet classes totaling 480 new officers over the next year. But, because of the number of workers retiring, it won’t necessarily mean an increase in correctional employees at a time when the state’s prisons are bulging with a record number of inmates.

Steans said budget negotiators, who are trying to spend about $500 million less than what Quinn proposed in his budget address, are aware of the problems facing the Illinois Department of Corrections.

“We know that they want to keep up their staffing,” Steans said.

Abdon Pallasch, deputy director of Quinn’s budget office, said in some cases, hiring new workers is a better deal for taxpayers because it reduces overtime costs. The state’s new labor contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union also calls for bringing in new employees at a lower rate than in the past, which also could reduce personnel costs, he said.

And, a request to hire 75 new auditors at the Illinois Department of Revenue is being touted as a money-maker for the agency because of the additional unpaid taxes they’ll collect.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who chairs a House appropriations committee, said lawmakers must weigh how many additional employees are needed at a time when there are an estimated 1,200 vacancies in the Department of Human Services.

Harris said negotiators need to determine whether additional employees will help with the implementation of Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act.

“All these departments are supposed to be offering all these new services in this expanded, changed health care marketplace. How is this really going to work?” Harris said.

Asked if the General Assembly could iron out all the wrinkles before the clock runs out on May 31, Harris said, “Yes. That’s the plan. It’s a fairly daunting task with serious consequences for people.”

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