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State forced to make emergency ammo purchase when usual vendor demands money up front

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SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Department of Corrections was forced to make an emergency purchase of ammunition last month because of the state's inability to pay its bills.

The purchase happened after one of the state's ammunition vendors, Shore Galleries Inc., refused to ship bullets unless the company was paid upfront. The state owes the Lincoln-wood firm $6,000.

The department was able to find a new vendor quickly in Indiana and ordered 761,000 rounds for nearly $200,000.

Requests for comment from Shore Galleries Inc. were not immediately returned.

Corrections spokeswoman Januari Smith said guards were not in danger of having too few bullets to deal with inmates in the nearly 30 prisons throughout the state.

"Public health/safety was never at risk," she wrote in an e-mail response to questions about the no-bid bullet purchase.

Rather, the shortage affected cadet training academies, where future prison guards learn their trade. During their six weeks of training, each cadet uses roughly 600 rounds.

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"If the state didn't find another vendor, the department may have been forced to reduce and/or delay firearms training for cadets," Smith said.

Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said the lack of ammunition is a sign of the state's continuing fiscal woes.

"This is just another example of the state's broken budget coming home to roost," he said.

The state is facing a $13 billion deficit and a mountain of unpaid bills, and vendors aren't the only ones awaiting payments. School districts, local governments, service providers and many others are making tough decisions because of the state's lack of funding.

The backlog totals $4.5 billion, with some unpaid bills dating back to September 2009, said Alan Henry, spokesman for the state comptroller. The office's top priorities include debt repayment, aid to schools, Medicaid payments and payroll expenditures, which total close to $2 billion a month.

"That leaves very little for other bills," Henry said.

Gov. Pat Quinn is calling for a 33 percent income tax increase to help fund education, which faces $1 billion in cuts. But the proposal doesn't help correctional officers, for instance, or any other entity, Lindall said.

chris.essig@lee.net|789-0865

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