Despite the din of protesters who chanted throughout the Joliet Gateway Center groundbreaking ceremony Friday, Gov. Pat Quinn held fast to his belief that the Illinois Youth Center in Joliet and other prisons must be closed.
In fact, he made several pointed comments to the groundbreaking crowd that were no doubt meant to be heard by the 30 or so picketers gathered a few hundred feet away as they booed and shouted "liar" and "tell the truth."
At one point, Quinn compared the new jobs that will come with Joliet's new downtown transportation hub and those being created with the CenterPoint intermodal facilities with the redundant jobs he's trying to eliminate at the Murphysboro prison, where 50 state employees still work despite there being no prisoners.
"Some may disagree with my decision (to close that prison) -- I think you can hear some of them now," he said. But hard decisions on how the state uses its money have to be made, he said.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents many of the state workers who will lose their jobs if Murphysboro, Joliet and five other prisons are closed, has tried numerous tacks to keep the facilities open.
Most recently, they secured a temporary restraining order after an arbitrator ruled Quinn had violated the union contract by planning to shut most of the facilities by Aug. 31 without completing required employee contract bargaining, the story said.
Quinn, speaking to reporters after the groundbreaking, said he doesn't have much choice but to close the prisons as well as 45 other state facilities in order to deal with the state's dire financial situation. And the same is true for needing to change the pension plan for state employees, which makes up a huge portion of the state's budget deficit, he said.
"Everyone knows we have a financial crisis. We have to do something about it," Quinn said. "We can't just keep the facilities open for their own sake."
Will County Regional Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant, who is running for the 49th District State Senate seat, issued a statement friday afternoon calling on Quinn to reconsider and save hundreds of local jobs.
“I know the governor was in the area for the groundbreaking at the new transportation center in Joliet. I applaud the governor and area leaders for their hard work on a partnership that will bring valuable jobs and economic activity to the area,” Bertino-Tarrant said.
“While he was in town, I hope the governor took the time to listen—as I have—to the employees and families affected by the proposal to close the Illinois Youth Center, ” Jennifer added.
Bertino-Tarrant, who is facing Republican Garrett Peck in the November election, once served as a counselor at the center.
“What I’m reminded of as I travel the district is that budgets are more than just numbers—real people are affected by the decisions we make, ” she said. “As State Senator, I will fight against harmful cuts that will cost us jobs in our community. Whether we’re talking about teachers, social service providers or those on the front lines fighting for public safety, these folks need somebody in Springfield that looks out for them."