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Restored budget cuts still need Blagojevich OK

Senate approves fund sweeps to restore budget cuts
September 24, 2008 3:07:45 PM PDT
The Illinois Senate is agreeing to take hundreds of millions of dollars from special state funds to restore painful budget cuts. The Senate voted 40-15 to "sweep" $221 million from dedicated accounts that would restore funds for human services and keep state parks and historic sites open. The proposal now goes to Governor Rod Blagojevich for action.

Blagojevich announced that he would lay off 325 workers last month and close two dozen state parks and historic sites. The action was necessary because he cut $1.4 billion from the state budget lawmakers sent him in July because it wasn't balanced.

Blagojevich cut $1.4 billion from the state budget in July because it wasn't balanced.

But Blagojevich must sign the bill and he's vetoed or changed key pieces of legislation all summer.

The governor's staff says the budget is still tight and revenues are slower than anticipated. So approving the budget restorations is not a sure thing.

The governor admitted he's never visited any of the parks and sites slated to close but says closing the sites is necessary because legislators sent him a budget with too much spending.

They are scenic and some are historic.

"Over the years, they've maintained less and less of the parks, now they want to close them. I mean, where are people supposed to go?" wondered one parkgoer.

Protests, such as one weekend rally at Illini State Park, were planned elsewhere. At issue is Governor Blagojevich's plan to save a little more than $2 million.

Gebhard Woods, which sits between the Illinois River and I&M Canal in Morris is one of 11 parks that would be forced to close. Thirty-nine Department of Natural Resources jobs would be lost.

"We need these parks. We want these parks. It's a way of life. It's what keeps our sanity," said Morris resident Christina Camerson.

"I don't think these are budget savings at all. The parks of Illinois are great economic engines. They attract tourists from other places. Between concessions and businesses, they create jobs," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

Last year, more than 5.5 million people visited the state parks threatened with closure. Also at risk are a dozen historic sites, including a popular Frank Lloyd Wright home in Springfield.

"That's our big concern in this case, keeping them open. Once they are closed, it's very difficult to reopen even one day a week. The site manager is gone, the people that know the site are gone," said Jim Peters, Landmarks Illinois.

The historic sites and parks may be the latest casualties in the ongoing financial feud between the Illinois General Assembly and governor. On Monday, Blagojevich said a new bill that would save the sites with an infusion of $5 million doesn't address the bigger budget problem.

"My fear is they'll send a little bit, say they did something and we'll be in the same place and have to come back and try to encourage them to do more," Blagojevich said.

Thirty thousand people had signed an online petition to save the parks.


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