Ax still falling on state jobs, parks, historic sites

Published: 9/12/2008 12:05 AM

SPRINGFIELD - Hundreds of state layoffs and the closing of two dozen state historic sites and parks will proceed as planned in the comings weeks as Illinois lawmakers appear unable to agree on how to prevent them.

A day after the Illinois House voted to restore $221 million in funding cuts by tapping special state bank accounts, the Senate announced it would not return to the Capitol to consider it and other moves until Nov. 12.

In the meantime, 11 historic sites are slated to close Oct. 1 with 13 state parks to follow Nov. 1. More than 300 layoffs among four state agencies also begin this fall and numerous social service agencies have begun announcing cuts because of dwindling state funds.

Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones Jr., a Chicago Democrat, said the Senate approved enough funding back in May to balance state spending but the House didn't follow suit, approving the spending with no way to pay for it all, which led to the governor slashing nearly $1.4 billion.

"We took the tough votes in May," Davidsmeyer said, adding that the Senate approved taking $530 million from the state accounts to keep programs and sites open. "Frankly, $221 million does not reflect the concerns we have about the budget," she said.

The delay until Nov. 12 also casts uncertainty over ethics legislation that the Illinois House approved Wednesday, setting aside Gov. Rod Blagojevich's rewrite. At first glance, the delay seems to run afoul of a 15-day deadline, meaning the entire plan would be dead. But Jones said the deadline doesn't begin until the provision is officially read into the Senate record.

One suburban Democrat called the situation "shameful."

"We're going back to the personality conflicts that seem to be driving the Senate agenda," said Lake Forest state Sen. Susan Garrett.

News of the Senate's scheduling is sure to discourage park and historic site enthusiasts who thought they'd cleared a major hurdle with the House vote.

"We strongly urge the citizens to call their local state senator and tell him or her to support these bills and urge Senate President Emil Jones, Jr., to call a special session of the Senate as soon as possible so they can vote on these restoration bills," Landmarks Illinois President and CEO Jim Peters said in a news release.

A spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said people showing up at the state parks after Nov. 1 would be asked to leave. If they refuse, they could be ticketed for trespassing and face a $75 fine.