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Budget cuts claim 11 state parks, 13 historic sites, 325 jobs
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Castle Rock State Park in Oregon.



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Published: 8/28/2008 5:41 PM | Updated: 8/29/2008 12:15 AM

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DENVER - While Illinois Democrats gathered Thursday to see Chicago's Barack Obama become the first black man to accept the party's nomination for president, Gov. Rod Blagojevich had flown home as his administration cut hundreds of state jobs and closed nearly two dozen historic sites and parks.

The move outraged lawmakers who just a day before watched the governor hug political rival Michael Madigan, the Illinois House speaker, and talk about a new day of working together.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat, said it's obvious Blagojevich was trying to bury the cuts and closings under all the Obama coverage coming from the national convention.

"Every time he astonishes me on how low he can go," Franks said.

The cuts include 325 layoffs among four state agencies - natural resources, historic preservation, human services and children and family services. In addition, 11 state parks and 13 historic sites will close.

The governor's office denied using Obama as cover.

"Why today? Why not tomorrow? There wasn't a decision on why today," said budget office spokeswoman Kelley Quinn. "We've been working on this since July."

This spring, lawmakers sent Blagojevich a budget nearly $2.1 billion out of whack. The governor already vetoed out $1.3 billion. Quinn did not know how much the latest cuts and closings would save and didn't rule out more coming.

Most of those laid off are represented by the state's largest union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "The governor's actions will put abused and neglected children at greater risk, reduce access to Medicaid and food stamps, and further harm state parks and historic sites," AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer said in a statement.

The union said cuts will take effect over the coming months.

Other suburban Democrats were dismayed at the governor's conduct.

"I'm truly disappointed," said Waukegan state Sen. Terry Link as he waited to get into the convention's closing ceremonies.

Blagojevich arrived late to this convention and then left early.

"I guess it's his choice," Link said. "Everyone should be here showing unity today."

A Blagojevich spokesman offered the following explanation.

"He wanted to watch it at home with his family. It's a historic moment," said Lucio Guerrero. And he said there's no conflict between Thursday's cuts and Wednesday's "hugfest" reconciliation effort among Blagojevich, Madigan and other prominent Democrats.

"The cuts have to do with the budget - what happened last night doesn't change the fiscal shape that we were in when the budget came in out of balance. Not sure how you make that connection," Guerrero said in an e-mail.

Blagojevich gave no hint during his time in Denver that budget cuts were coming.

List of closures

• Dana-Thomas House, Springfield

• Lincoln log cabin near Charleston

• David Davis mansion, Bloomington

• Fort de Chartres, Randolph County

• Vandalia statehouse

• State center at Bishop Hill, Henry County

• Carl Sandburg birthplace, Galesburg

• Cahokia courthouse

• Bryant cottage, Bement

• Jubilee College, near Peoria

• Apple River Fort, Elizabeth

• Fort Kaskaskia, Randolph County

• Pierre Menard home, Randolph County

• Castle Rock State Park, Oregon

• Lowden State Park, Oregon

• Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, Sheffield

• Illini State Park, Marseilles

• Channahon Parkway State Park, Channahon

• Gebhard Woods State Park, Morris

• Hidden Springs State Forrest, Strasburg

• Kickapoo State Park, Oakwood

• Moraine View State Park, Leroy

• Weldon Springs State Park, Clinton

• Wolf Creek State Park, Windsor

Source: Blagojevich administration