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Quinn says pension fix must happen, but cool to gambling expansion

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says lawmakers will have no choice but to return to Springfield soon to hammer out a pension reform plan, but he’s lukewarm to plan to expand gambling in the state.

The legislative session ended Thursday with lawmakers 1 for 2 on major reforms.

Legislators approved deep cuts to Medicaid but came up short on pension reform.

Quinn says credit rating agencies could downgrade the state’s credit if it doesn’t handle its $83 billion dollar pension debt.

The stickler is whether local school districts, community colleges and universities will have to pay pension costs for employees instead of the state.

Earlier this spring, Quinn says he favored that option.

But earlier this week, he sided with a plan from House Republican Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) to remove the so called “cost-shift” from any pension reform package.

But the measure failed so miserably that Quinn urged Cross not to bring it to the floor for a vote.

House Speaker and fellow Democrat Mike Madigan favors the cost shift, and now, so does Quinn again.

“I believe in the principal of accountability, that every unit of government that negotiates a contract should have a stake in that contract, should have skin in the game,” Quinn said Friday morning at his office inside the State Capitol in Springfield. “It’s a continuous issue. And I want to work with all the legislators and I think we have the elements, we’re very close, but we’re not there yet.”

Quinn doesn’t know when he intends to call legislators back for a special session.

But he plans to meet with Madigan, Cross and Senate President John Cullerton next week to try to hammer out a deal.

As far as that casino, the odds aren’t with those who want to see it happen like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and race track owners and operators.

The plan calls for Chicago, a south suburb and three other areas of the state to get their own casino.

Racetracks will also be in line for slot machines.

The measure cleared both chambers just before the end of the session on Thursday.  

So now, it’s up to Quinn so far the biggest obstacle to a massive expansion of gambling in Illinois.

“We have to make sure when you have the subject of gambling and gaming that everything is done right, from the beginning to the end. I think that’s the only way to go. It’s especially important to have oversight, integrity and protection for the public,” Quinn said.

State Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) offered another bill that ban campaign contributions from casino owners and allow the state to oversee any casino in Chicago. But that effort may have come a little too late for Quinn.

The House sponsor, Lou Lang (D-Skokie), says thousands in the horseracing industry are depending on passage of the bill to save jobs.

Both Lang and Link say expanding gambling could generate at least $400 million in new revenue for the state by keeping Illinois gamblers who head to Indiana and Wisconsin at home.

When asked if he thinks Illinois is reaching a saturation point with casinos, he says it’s not his problem to worry about over saturation.

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