Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
SPRINGFIELD — While many states are trying to cut public employees and their benefits, Gov. Quinn’s budget proposal would add nearly 950 people to the state payroll in departments ranging from Corrections to Public Health.
The additions described in a budget analysis from House Democrats would increase the number of state workers 1.7 percent, but they come as the state is trying to claw its way out of a deep budget hole. Republican legislators and some Democrats say Quinn’s spending plan won’t do enough to cut expenses.
The administration said adding some jobs would save money because some state agencies, particularly the Corrections Department, are spending huge amounts on overtime as guards work long hours to make up for a staff shortage.
In other cases, the Democratic governor’s staff said, new laws require new hiring.
Legislation increasing oversight of nursing homes requires more inspectors, Quinn budget director David Vaught said. A huge public works program designed to boost the economy will require more engineers at the Transportation Department.
“We closely monitor that to make sure those are not excessive,” Vaught said.
Several legislators said Thursday that they might be willing to add jobs if Quinn could demonstrate they would ultimately lower spending.
“Given the fiscal situation, given the many people on both sides of the aisle saying cuts need to be made, this will be a very hard sale,” said Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat who leads an appropriations committee.
His Republican counterpart, Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, said: “We’re going to want to know what they’re all for and see if they can pass that threshold question of whether it would save the state money.”
Quinn’s office did not immediately respond to repeated messages left Thursday seeking details on the hiring.
The House Democrats’ budget analysis shows 945 people would be hired, including 187 at Corrections, 150 at Transportation, 101 at Public Health and 97 at Veterans’ Affairs.
The proposed hiring was applauded by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has long argued that by skimping on workers the state reduces the quality of services and jeopardizes employees in sensitive jobs, particularly prison guards.
“It’s a good thing that they’re making an effort to begin to restore adequate staffing,” union spokesman Anders Lindall said.
Staff at the Corrections Department this year is down about 22 percent from a decade ago. Spokeswoman Sharyn Elman said its net savings after hiring new guards would be about $5.4 million.
When accounting for population, Illinois has one of the nation’s smallest state work forces — perhaps the very smallest. New York, for instance, has about 200,000 state employees, while Illinois has about 55,000, not counting university staff.
New York is one of many states looking at layoffs.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposes cutting nearly 10,000 jobs. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker says he will lay off thousands unless public employees are stripped of their collective bargaining rights. North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue wants to merge multiple state agencies and lay off employees.