Fate of state-sites goes back to Governor's desk

Doug Finke/GateHouse News Service

Faced with potential voter backlash in November, Illinois senators on Sept. 23 approved bills to reverse budget cuts that threatened to close state parks and historic sites – including the Bishop Hill Museum, Colony Church and Bjorklund Hotel, all in Bishop Hill – and cause hundreds of state workers to be laid off.

The House approved the legislation three weeks ago, so it now goes to Gov. Rod Blagojevich for his approval.

Almost immediately, though, the governor’s office signaled that the Senate action may not save all of the parks, sites and jobs. Blagojevich must act on the budget restorations for them to take effect.

“We still have to look at particulars of the bill and the language before deciding what to do,” said Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero in an e-mailed statement. “We will spend what we can afford to spend in the areas of the greatest need.”

Blagojevich has said the budget lawmakers sent him at the end of May was at least $2 billion out of balance. He cut $1.4 billion, with tighter money management used to balance the rest.

Because of those cuts, state agencies announced plans to close two dozen state parks and historic sites and lay off about 325 workers, mostly at the departments of Human Services and Children and Family Services.

The Senate voted 55-0 on Senate Bill 1103 that restored the cut money for parks, historic sites and the jobs. It also reinstated funding slashed from substance abuse programs and money taken from statewide officials who have announced layoffs, unpaid days off and hiring freezes.

The Senate then voted 40-15 on Senate Bill 790, which takes money out of restricted state accounts to pay for the spending.

“All I can believe is, he is going to sign this bill,” Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, said of the governor. “It got an overwhelming vote. This is what we believe is the will of the people.”

However, Rep. Mark Beaubien, R-Barrington Hills, said he doesn’t think Blagojevich will go along.

“He has the ability to take his veto pen and play games,” Beaubien said. “He can mess with it.”

If Blagojevich does make changes to the budget bill or vetoes it entirely, lawmakers can still try to override him before the cuts take effect. The administration has pushed back closing parks and historic sites until the end of November. Lawmakers are scheduled to return to Springfield Nov. 12 for the start of the veto session.

Members of both the House and Senate said they got loud complaints from constituents upset that parks and historic sites were closing. They resorted to raiding restricted state funds so the facilities could reopen, although many criticized the practice.

The budget action came on the same day the Department of Revenue projected state revenues could fall $200 million short of initial forecasts, further aggravating the state’s financial woes.

GateHouse News Service Capitol Bureau Chief Ryan Keith contributed to this report.