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Though Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly this week moved closer to a budget compromise, at least one element proposed last week by Quinn needs to be revisited.
Last Tuesday, the governor rolled out a plan that called for sweeping layoffs in a number of state agencies. In all, his proposal would cut thousands of state jobs. Many of those cuts would dismantle social service agencies that serve the most vulnerable among us. Others target correctional facilities.
With a state deficit that now tops $9 billion, cutting out pork and non-essential programs is one thing. And most state agencies should expect to shoulder their fair share of the downsizing.
But cutting hundreds of positions out of what many say is an already dangerously understaffed corrections system is quite another thing. The initial corrections cuts would affect about 500 employees at six facilities – East Moline, Lincoln, Logan, Decatur, Vandalia and Vienna. And another 500 could be cut in a second round of reductions, corrections officials said.
In Vandalia, Quinn’s plan would eliminate 119 jobs from the Vandalia Correctional Center staff. To make that possible would require the early release or transfer of hundreds of VCC inmates.
Already, the VCC Work Camp is doing virtually no outside work projects anymore – primarily because the facility doesn’t have the staff to oversee inmates while the work is being done. And much of the farm operation has been curtailed or leased out to be managed by the private sector.
It was no secret that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich wanted to see VCC closed. His efforts to shutter the facility five years ago were eventually rebuffed. But with the continued cutbacks in VCC programs, it seems that the Blagojevich administration was determined to see the facility fail. So far, the trend hasn’t changed under Quinn.
As we did five years ago, Vandalia city officials and community leaders are mobilizing to fight the state’s efforts to target VCC. And as it did five years ago, such a grassroots protest will take all of us if it’s to succeed.
A public meeting last Thursday began the work of developing a strategy to fight the cuts. More meetings and more involvement across the community will be necessary.
Our community is already hurting from the decision by Orgill officials to close that company’s Vandalia distribution facility this fall. We can’t allow what appears to be a politically motivated decision to diminish VCC – our largest employer. During the coming weeks, we all need to get involved in the fight. And we need to make sure our representatives in Springfield hear our concerns and join in that fight, too.