Editorial: Vote on camp illustrates why Illinois is broke

By Herald & Review editorial board

Here’s a small, but educational, lesson on why the state of Illinois budget is billions of dollars in the red.

On Tuesday, the Illinois House passed a bill that would require the Department of Corrections to reopen the Hardin County Work Camp in Southern Illinois. The bill passed on a 69-34 votes.

The work camp closure was announced in June by Gov. Bruce Rauner at the same time he announced the closing of the Illinois State Museum and other facilities around the state. The closing of the work camp saved $1 million, according to the governor’s office, and would have required $9.8 million to keep the camp open. The camp costs nearly $3.5 million a year to operate and the repairs needed include the facility’s kitchen and bathrooms, the electrical system, a backup generator and other maintenance projects. The camp finished closing in January.


But Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who represents the area, wants to see the camp reopen. He was the sponsor of the bill that was approved by the House on Tuesday, along with Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro and Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston.

“I have never really asked this body for a favor, but I’m doing so today to try to help me help one of the poorest counties … in the state,” Phelps said on the House floor.

It’s understandable for a representative to push for what’s best for his district. The loss of jobs and other economic problems caused by the closing of a state facility can be hurtful to a community. The state is also haphazard in the way it manages its own facilities. There is no strategic plan, no roadmap that guides the state on which facilities should be closed and which should stay open.

However, there’s another important factor that lawmakers apparently didn’t consider. The state doesn’t have any money. By any accounting standard, Illinois is broke. In that environment, keeping a facility open because it’s located in a poor county doesn’t make any sense. “Favors” to fellow legislators is not a good reason to support spending more money. Pouring money into an inefficient facility is bad policy anytime, but especially when the state is out of funds.

The $1 million the state would save is not really significant given the state’s budget problems. Frankly, the nearly $10 million it would cost to renovate the camp is a pretty small drop in the state’s budget bucket. This bill also has to be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor before it becomes law. The Hardin County Work Camp is far from saved.

However, solving the state’s budget crisis will require sacrifice. It will require higher taxes and fees and it will require less spending. That virtually guarantees that some state facilities will have to be closed. Lawmakers need to understand that and should accept that some of that sacrifice is going to come from their districts.



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