At a back-to-school event Tuesday, Quinn blamed state lawmakers for failing to appropriate enough money to pay the employees.
"All agreements are subject to the clause in the Illinois law that says 'subject to appropriations.' So if the General Assembly doesn't appropriate the money, the governor doesn't have the authority on his own motion to appropriate money," said Quinn.
The governor rang the bell in front of the LaSalle II Magnet School, where the emphasis is on languages of the world. From reporters, the questions were about the language of budget and the likelihood of layoffs.
"I have to abide by the will of the General Assembly. They passed the budget that requires reductions, and therefore we'll have to carry those reductions out," said Quinn.
Gov. Quinn did not say how many state employees could lose their jobs.
The state's largest government employee union has a no-layoff, no facility closing agreement with Quinn that's supposed to be in effect until next June. When the governor blocked scheduled pay raises two months ago, AFSCME took it to court. Layoffs could mean another legal battle.
"This is a collective bargaining agreement that has the force of law and our members kept their part of it," said Anders Lindall, AFSCME. "We'll do whatever is necessary to uphold the contract. We'll go to the courts as we've shown an ability and willingness to do."
"We have to do what we have to do in order to get through this fiscal year with the appropriations the general assembly provided," said Quinn.
The governor says as long as the money's not appropriated, terms of the agreement with AFSCME are moot.
There is also the possibility that the governor may choose to close some state facilities, perhaps a prison.
The John Howard Association, a longtime prison watch-dog group, says the state's prison system is already overcrowded. Closing a prison could also invite legal challenge.
"I don't know how it's practical, I don't how it's even possible," said John Maki, John Howard Association executive director. "We want to see - the John Howard Association wants to see a smaller prison population, but you do that through sentencing reform, not through this kind of drastic action."
State Senator Bill Brady, who lost to Pat Quinn in the governor's race, said the talk of layoffs and closings is a political ploy and that Quinn is "turning into a blowhard that has no credibility in the General Assembly."
Spokespersons for both the Office of Senate President and House Speaker say they have no immediate meetings with Quinn. The governor says he'll have more to say later this week.