Youth prisons warn about big cuts

Political Editor

SPRINGFIELD - The leader of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice said the agency would have to release more than 200 offenders and close down two of its six youth prisons if the state budget is cut as deeply as some Democrats warn.

Acting Director Candace Jones told an Illinois Senate panel the agency would lay off more than 260 workers under a 20 percent budget cut but didn't say whether the youth centers at St. Charles and Warrenville would be shuttered.

Senate Democrats arranged a wide-ranging hearing to try to highlight some of the budget costs associated with letting the 2011 income tax hike expire at the end of the year.

Republicans asked Jones whether the cuts would be as dire if her budget remained flat.

"It sounds like we're hearing strong support for keeping budgets flat," said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat and chairman of a Senate budget committee.

Republicans, though, argued budget cuts wouldn't have to be as harsh as Democrats were suggesting and accused Democrats of trying to create support for extending the tax hike.

"Frankly, it's a pretty cynical ploy," state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said.

If the tax rolls back as expected, lawmakers will have about $1.3 billion less to spend in the budget they're trying to craft now, so the coming months will see a debate over what to do next.

Gov. Pat Quinn is set to deliver his annual budget plan to lawmakers Wednesday, a speech that's likely to have major campaign themes as the Chicago Democrat is set to take on Republican businessman Bruce Rauner of Winnetka in the November election.

Lawmakers sometimes take cues from Quinn's budget but often set out to make a spending plan on their own.

  The Illinois Youth Center in St. Charles. LAURA STOECKER/
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