Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn plans to lay off 1,000 prison guards as part of his push to save the deficit-addled state coffers $1 billion. The first 500 employees affected by those layoffs work at minimum-security facilities in East Moline, Decatur, Logan County, Vandalia and Vienna.

With fewer workers at those facilities, the Department of Corrections is creating a list of inmates who qualify for early release.

Here's what one guard at the Decatur women's prison, who is in line to be laid off, had to say about the governor's plans:

"The inmates are fully aware of the staff shortage already! They watch the news and talk to families on the outside everyday! They make it known to the staff that they are aware of our shortage. How much responsibility is the governor going to take for the demise of the correctional system? Who is going to keep the remaining staff and the public safe from these criminals that deserve to be where they are?"

"Why do the working class, front line officers have to be the ones to fix the budget? The senators and representatives that can't come to a budget agreement should be forced to take unpaid days as well! Let the tie-wearing, desk-occupying, highly paid men and women of the Capitol put on a blue uniform for one day and see what every officer does everyday!"

Another prison employee had this to say: "I'm from Sheridan and have lived through a layoff from Sheridan prison in 2002 and my fiance works in Pontiac. So, for the last five years basically we have been held hostage by the state. I am unable to make any financial decisions or make any improvements in my children's lives because of the constant fear of more layoffs."

Fountain funding

Construction workers are revamping two large fountains on the east side of the Statehouse lawn.

By all regards, the fountains are a nice feature of the Capitol complex.

But, they've been out of commission for at least a year because they were old and leaky.

The timing of the work seems a bit off.

State government has no budget. Gov. Pat Quinn announced the layoffs of 2,600 state employees last Tuesday. Many more local social service providers have laid off workers.

"We believe in shared sacrifice," Quinn said. "We're doing everything possible to be frugal in our government."

Well. Not everything, possibly.

Back on a ballot?

Former state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, the unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor in 2006, is mulling a 2010 run for comptroller because of the financial problems plaguing the state.

"It's really a sad kettle of fish," Topinka told me last week.

Democrat lines up against tax hike

Some Democrats have been pointing fingers at Republicans for not getting on board with the idea of an income tax hike as a way to fill the massive hole in the state budget.

But its not just GOP lawmakers who aren't on board.

Take state Rep. Bob Flider, D-Mount Zion, as an example.

"I haven't come to a conclusion that a tax hike is the answer," Flider said last week.

Da Coach likes Quinn

At the same time Quinn is battling it out with the General Assembly over the budget mess, he's found some time to begin gearing up for the 2010 campaign season.

In a video posted last week, former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka calls the governor a "good man."

"I think doing the right thing for the people who put you in office is more important than what you can do for yourself while you're in office. That's just what I believe. And I think he'll do that," Ditka says.

The funny thing about Ditka's praise is that he's a Republican. In 2004, an effort was made to get him to run for the U.S. Senate. Da Coach declined.

Contact Times Bureau Chief

Kurt Erickson at kurt.erickson@lee.net

or (217)789-0865.

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