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Quinn's quick trip: State workers greet governor with pension protest

(MCT) — DECATUR — The fate of the Decatur Adult Transition Center and other facilities across the state remains uncertain, despite lawmakers in Springfield working to allot money for their operation.

Gov. Pat Quinn was in Decatur on Tuesday afternoon to speak at Richland Community College on an unrelated capital project for which funds were recently released. After finishing his remarks, the governor made a quick exit and did not speak to reporters or others in attendance.

Quinn cut $56 million from the budget and proposed shutting down several prisons and transitional centers across the state. But the Illinois Senate voted to reject the cuts last week, while the House may still call a bill to restore the money to the budget during its fall veto session this week. However, even if the House does reinstate the money, it would largely be a symbolic message. Quinn would not have to spend the money on prisons or facilities, though he couldn’t spend it elsewhere, either.

Students and other local politicians came to Richland to see the governor speak, while dozens of representatives of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union came to send a message to Quinn. As the governor took the podium, AFSCME members brought out signs in support of their workers at the facilities, as well as criticizing Quinn’s and other lawmakers’ attempts to reform pensions.

Among the protesters was Rick Perkins, who has worked for 33 years as a state employee. Like many there, Perkins came to express his anger at Quinn and other lawmakers who have looked at changing pensions for state employees.

“This is not an entitlement; I worked for this pension,” Perkins said. “(Quinn) doesn’t want to stand and face us.”

The anger at Quinn is nothing new or isolated to certain parts of the state. A poll last week by the liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling found Quinn’s approval rating at 25 percent, which is the lowest rating the group has for any governor in the country. Quinn did himself no favors last month when he terminated the AFSCME contract.

Chad Zumwalt, another AFSCME protester at Tuesday’s speech, was not surprised by the numbers.

“It’s obvious what he’s done to get there,” Zumwalt said. “He must be proud of that honor.”

But Quinn’s approval numbers were not high in 2010 either, yet he defeated Dan Hynes in the Democratic primary and Bloomington state Sen. Bill Brady in the general election to win re-election.

Jim Underwood, executive director of the Capital Development Board and chairman of the Macon County Democrats, understands the frustration but said Quinn has done the best he could in a bad situation.

“I support our governor,” he said.

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