Illinois Statehouse News | Analysis

Quinn opened shuttered state parks but closed state prisons

2014-03-03T00:00:00Z Quinn opened shuttered state parks but closed state prisonsKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
March 03, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Five years ago this week, Gov. Pat Quinn won the praise of many downstate residents when he reversed decisions made by his mop-topped predecessor and reopened state parks and historic sites.

Places like Moraine View State Park west of Bloomington and Weldon Spring State Park near Clinton began operating at full strength again – a sign that the sad days of Rod Blagojevich's reign of ridiculousness were coming to an end.

As Quinn put it, parks and historic sites that had drawn more than 2.2 million visitors per year – including some connected to Illinois' favorite son, Abe Lincoln -- would once again give Illinoisans the ability to enjoy the awesomeness of their state.

The Chicago Democrat, newly minted for the job after Blagojevich was booted out of office for corruption, said his former running mate's budget cuts ultimately cost more than they saved by hurting the economy.

Fast forward to two years ago. The guy who reopened state facilities was suddenly talking about closing others down.

Saying it was necessary to shrink government because of rising pension costs and a gigantic backlog of bills, Quinn used his power to close prisons developmental centers and other state facilities – most of them located in areas very far from his political base in Chicago.

For downstate residents tired of Chicago politicians, it was Blagojevich all over again.

On Tuesday, the Illinois House approved a resolution that will help guide lawmakers as they go about trying to figure out the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It said the state will receive less in revenue than it has this year, thanks mainly to the expiration of the controversial temporary income tax increase of 2011.

It's not clear how Quinn or lawmakers plan to address the shortfall.

For now, however, it doesn't appear that more prison closures are on the horizon as a solution.

Following a budget hearing last week, I spoke with the Tony Godinez, director of the Illinois Department of Corrections, who oversaw Quinn's last round of prison closures.

Godinez told me he had not been told to prepare for another bloodletting in the upcoming budget.

In fact, he said he would strenuously argue against any proposal to close any more prisons in the next fiscal year.

“I can tell you without any hesitation that would not be my recommendation,” Godinez said.

-- THE COUNTDOWN

Speaking of Blagojevich, U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, a Democrat from Chicago, told reporters last week that he thinks Blagojevich should get out of prison early.

Davis is crafting legislation to allow federal inmates to reduce their time behind bars if they exhibit good behavior.

Federal prison records show Blagojevich, currently doing time at a federal lockup in Colorado, is not due to be released until May 2024.

For those doing the math, as of Sunday, Blagojevich has just about 5.4 million minutes left to serve on his sentence.

-- SECOND PLACE

Speaking of countdowns, voters have little more than two weeks to decide who they will vote for in the March 18 primary election.

By all accounts, super-rich political novice Bruce Rauner is leading in all of the polls in the Republican race to take on Quinn in the November general election.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford has been hobbled by a federal lawsuit accusing him of sex harassment, leaving two state senators – Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady – to say they are the best alternative to the unproven Rauner.

Neither, however, has signaled they have the money to compete on the airwaves.

It seems like their best hope is that an anti-Rauner push by labor unions knocks a few points off his lead.

Dillard was asked last week if he'll get on the air in Chicago before election.

"We'll see what happens," he said.

Brady told me he's planning on having some TV ads before the primary, but he has shown no aptitude for raising cash in his third bid to become governor.

Dillard, for his part, said voters shouldn't pay attention to the polls, which put Rauner far ahead of the field.

"Polling is not a completely accurate measure," Dillard said.

This is true. Four years ago, Brady was at 9 percent in a WGN/Tribune poll before narrowly winning the primary two weeks later.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or (217) 782-4043.

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