Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday that he plans major spending cuts, including layoffs, as he tries to keep state government running within the tight budget sent to him by Illinois legislators.
Quinn would provide no details about the scope of the cuts. Asked if thousands of state employees could lose their jobs, he said, "We have to do what we have to do."
Legislators and state-employee unions said they hadn't been given any information about Quinn's plans. With lawmakers returning to the Capitol at the end of October, announcing cuts could be partly a tactic to generate public pressure on the General Assembly to allow more spending.
One union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, immediately called on officials to overcome a "crisis of will" and approve money to maintain key operations.
Quinn's comments came in response to a Chicago Tribune report Tuesday that cited a person in state government who requested anonymity who said Quinn planned to issue layoff notices this week. The Tribune also reported that sources said Quinn intends to announce the closing of several state facilities, including a prison, juvenile detention center and homes for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled. The Tribune's report followed a similar one by the Capital Fax blog last week.
The Democratic governor and his staff did not deny the reports but would not provide any details about how many jobs could be targeted, what state operations might close or how much Quinn believes spending must be cut.
Cutting jobs and closing facilities would entangle the state in another legal battle with unions representing state employees. It also could take a toll on the state economy.
But Quinn said he has no choice. Lawmakers passed a budget that means some state departments will run out of money by spring unless reductions are made, he said.
"I have to abide by the will of the General Assembly," Quinn said. "They passed a budget that requires reductions, and therefore we'll have to carry those reductions out."
Lawmakers approved spending $33.9 billion this year, Quinn's budget office said. That's $1.5 billion, or 4.2 percent, below what Quinn requested.
Quinn could have vetoed the budget as insufficient, but he signed it instead. Quinn later explained that he did not want to return the budget to the General Assembly and give the Republican minority an opportunity to demand even lower spending.
Cutting jobs and facilities would violate an agreement Quinn struck last year with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Quinn took those options off the table in exchange for the union delaying raises and coming up with millions of dollars in savings elsewhere in the budget.
Quinn said he is no longer bound by that deal because it was "subject to appropriation" and lawmakers simply did not appropriate enough money to run the state for a full year without making deep cuts.
AFSCME rejects the claim that its agreement with Quinn is no longer valid. The union maintains the deal is legally binding. AFSCME and Quinn are already battling in court over the governor's attempt to cancel raises for some 30,000 employees.
Henry Bayer, executive director of AFSCME Council 31, noted Illinois has already cut government jobs significantly, giving it the nation's smallest number of state employees per capita. He said prisons, human service programs and veterans' homes are already struggling to operate safely and efficiently.
"Closures and layoffs at such a time will plunge state government into chaos," Bayer said in a statement.
The fact that such dramatic steps are possible in the same year as a major tax increase illustrates the depths of Illinois' budget problems.
Officials increased the state income tax by two-thirds in January, but almost all the additional money is being soaked up by the higher costs of pensions and insurance for government employees. That leaves almost nothing to pay for the steady rise of other costs, from salaries to office supplies to increasing demand for state services.
Sen. John Sullivan, a member of the Democratic leadership team, denied Quinn's claim that legislators have given him no choice but to make deep cuts.
"We did not pass the budget with the assumption that it would require layoffs and closures, that's for certain," said Sullivan, D-Rushville.
Sen. Bill Brady, the Bloomington Republican who ran against Quinn in last year's race for governor, said state spending should be cut even deeper. But he also accused Quinn of reneging on his no-layoffs deal with AFSCME.
"He is using state employees as pawns in this political game," Brady said in a statement. "Frankly, the games he plays are costly -- costly to hard-working state employees, as well as Illinois families and business."
Wills contributed to this report from Springfield, Ill.