- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Dozens of state employees and top Illinois officials will be affected by Gov. Bruce Rauner’s decision to ground the state’s airplanes in an effort to save $3 million in the coming fiscal year.

The planes are used by Democratic members of the state House and Senate, Illinois Supreme Court justices and statewide elected officials, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White, according to documents obtained by the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers (https://bit.ly/1dhiaIh ) through a Freedom of Information Act request. Other state employees also regularly use a nine-passenger commercial aircraft to conduct business in Chicago and Springfield.

As of July 1, they will have to figure out another way to travel about 200 miles between the state’s largest city and its capital city.

Rauner announced Tuesday that he was grounding the planes, which he doesn’t use, as part of his response to a Democrat-approved budget that he says is unbalanced by more than $3 billion.

In addition to stopping the aircraft services, Rauner has threatened to close a prison work camp in southern Illinois and as many as two juvenile prisons. He also plans to end financing for a low-income heating assistance program and make it more difficult for some seniors to receive services.

The state planes have long been subject to lawmakers introducing legislation to do away with the service that offers two round trips between Springfield and Chicago each weekday. It’s been around for about three decades.

Randy Blakenhorn, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, is among the more frequent users of the service. He flew or was scheduled to fly on the aircraft 17 times between January and April, according to DOT data. He’ll have to find a new method of transportation, which will take more time out of his workday than using the state planes.

But DOT spokesman Brian Willamsen said that business will continue as usual despite the change. “This decision will have no impact whatsoever on the secretary’s ability to do his job,” he said.

Republican Leslie Munger, Rauner’s comptroller who flew or was scheduled to fly on the aircraft seven times between January and April, will now commute by car, according to spokesman Rich Carter.

“Comptroller Munger wholeheartedly supports the decision given the General Assembly’s inability to deliver a balanced budget. Debt from years of unbalanced budgets is crowding out funding for critical services, and Comptroller Munger believes we must re-examine every state expenditure,” Carter said.

Democratic State Treasurer Mike Frerichs said he also supports the decision, his spokesman said.

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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