Illinois Statehouse News

Quinn's cost estimates for state facilities are inflated

2013-10-14T00:00:00Z Quinn's cost estimates for state facilities are inflatedKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
October 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

As part of an effort designed to save $88 million, the Quinn administration last year began trying to close various state facilities, ranging from prisons to institutions housing people with developmental disabilities.

Despite ferocious opposition from local lawmakers and lawsuits from the state’s largest employee union, the governor has been pretty much successful.

He’s been able to shutter prisons in Tamms and Dwight and a youth detention center in Murphysboro, just to name a few.

Last up in his downsizing bid is the Warren G. Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

Along with being philosophically opposed to large state institutions, Quinn and top brass in the Department of Human Services say one of the reasons Murray should be closed is because it costs more to house residents in the institution than it would if they were in privately run group homes in the community.

To bolster their argument, the state says it costs taxpayers $239,000 per year to house residents at Murray. Placing them in private facilities would cost $120,000, they estimate.

The state’s figures, however, are intellectually dishonest.

Here’s why:

The cost per resident in fiscal year 2006 when Murray had 342 residents was about $130,000 per year, according to figures provided by the Illinois Auditor General’s office.

In fiscal year 2009, when there were 298 residents, the average cost was listed as $180,000 per year.

Now, with the population down to about 230 residents, the cost has skyrocketed because they haven’t reduced the number of employees at the facility.

In other words, the cost of housing residents in Murray would be significantly cheaper if they actually filled all 372 beds or reduced the number of people working there.

It’s the same self-imposed cost-inflation argument the administration used to try and convince people to support closing the Tamms super-max prison last year. They kept moving residents out, but not reducing the workforce and then claiming the cost per resident was way too high.

MOVIE TIME

Illinois historic preservation officials have been in talks in recent months to bring set pieces from Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” movie to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Nobody’s offering any details, but records show they have considered using part of the nearby Union Station in downtown Springfield as a place for the exhibits. Union Station currently serves as a visitor center for the museum.

Most recently, pieces of the movie set were on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

BUSINESS CLIMATE

In its 10th annual ranking of states and their tax policies, the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation ranked Illinois 31st in the nation, a drop of one spot from last year’s ranking.

While that’s not necessarily a good thing, a look at the group’s list shows that it would be impractical for some companies to relocate to the top-ranked states.

At least Wyoming, South Dakota, Alaska, Montana, New Hampshire and Utah are nice places to visit.

Illinois, despite all of the negativity that has surrounded the imposition of a 67 percent increase in the state’s income tax, still beat out states like Maryland, Connecticut, Wisconsin, California, New Jersey and New York.

Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043. The opinions are the writer's.

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