Illinois House, Senate get down to work
Wednesday proved to be a busy day at the Illinois Statehouse, with both chambers passing significant pieces of legislation, including a budget and gambling expansion.
In the House, representatives approved the long-awaited Senate Bill 1849, which allows for five more casino licenses in Illinois, including one for Chicago and a south suburban location. It also opens the door to slot machines at horse racing tracks.
House sponsor Lou Lang (D-Skokie) says the bill makes sense for Illinois, and that it comes with a number of safeguards, including the fact that any casino operation for Chicago would be overseen by a Chicago gaming board that would have to report to the Illinois Gaming Board.
The bill also provides $50 million to the state gaming board for better oversight.
The bill eliminates something that was part of gambling expansion efforts last fall: slot machines at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago and at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.
“It’s a very strong effort on our part to try to comply with as much of the governor’s requests as we could,” Lang said. “This is a better bill (than last fall’s).”
Lang says the bill, if approved by the Senate and ultimately by Gov. Quinn, could generate $300 million to $1 billion and help protect the state’s horseracing industry and bring back gambling that went to neighboring states, including Northwest Indiana.
“I’m hopeful that the governor will decide that economic development, job creation and saving an industry, the horse racing industry, is worth doing,” Lang said on the House floor following the vote. “And I have a strong level of confidence that Gov. Quinn, who has always said that he’s the jobs governor, will default to the side of jobs.”
But don’t count on it.
In a statement release late Wednesday, Gov. Quinn says he continues to be opposed to the bill.
“It’s ironic that on the very day that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announced his resignation, the Illinois House would pass a gambling bill that continues to have major ethical shortcomings,” Quinn stated. “This new bill falls well short of the ethics standards I proposed in my framework last October. Most importantly, it does not include a ban on campaign contributions as lawmakers in other states have done to keep corruption out of the gambling industry and out of Illinois.”
Quinn added that states like Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Louisiana and bordering states like Iowa, Michigan and Indiana have all approved such bans.
"It does not provide the Illinois Gaming Board with sufficient time to make critical licensing and regulatory decisions. This bill also does not provide adequate oversight of the procurement process. It does not ensure clear oversight of the proposed Chicago casino. As long as I’m governor, I will not support a gambling bill that falls well short of protecting the people of Illinois. It is clear that this gaming bill still needs significant improvement.… Illinois cannot gamble its way out of our fiscal challenges.”
Quinn said lawmakers should spend the remaining week of the current legislative session focusing on solutions to Medicaid and pension reform. “I urge the members of the Illinois House and Senate to pay close attention to the most pressing issues that we must address by next Thursday, pension reform and Medicaid restructuring."
Although the bill passed out of the House by a 69 to 47, Lang would still need to find two more votes to ensure a veto-proof majority. House speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, voted present and has not voted yes or no for the bill, reportedly because of a conflict of interest.
In other major developments in the legislature, Senate Democrats pushed a state budget proposal. Three measures passed Wednesday on partisan votes. Republicans complained the plan spends too much and uses tricks to stay within expected revenue of about $34 billion. They say Democrats are rushing a plan to get a jump on the House in setting the budget agenda.
Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans sponsored two of the measures. She says the budget is balanced, avoids cuts to elementary and secondary education and keeps some facilities open that Gov. Pat Quinn has said the state must close. The measure assumes $2.7 million in Medicaid cuts Quinn says are needed. But negotiations over those cuts and changes to pension programs continue.
Senate Bill 2461, also approved by the Senate, includes funding for non-discretionary items such as group health insurance, Medicaid and pensions. The bill includes the $2.7 billion in spending cuts for Medicaid but also provides $10.9 million in contributions to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.
The House also approved on third reading of what’s called Quick Take. It allows the state of Illinois to quickly take land that will be used for the long-awaited east-west Illiana Expressway through parts of Will County into Northwest Indiana.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.