Government
5:36 am
Fri June 1, 2012

Pension bill stalls, gambling expansion passes as session ends

Illinois lawmakers have wrapped up their spring session. But they left some work on the table. 

The General Assembly did send the governor a budget. But Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, says it contains "gimmicks" meant to disguise bad policies.

"Pushing bills off. Moving them around," he said. "Trying to deceive the people into believing that fiscal responsibility has finally been visited upon their Capitol when clearly it has not."

Some Democrats say the budget spends less money than the amount the state expects to take in. Other party members say it doesn't spend enough in some areas, including education.

Sen. Mike Noland, D-Elgin, says policy leaders need to get serious about boosting long-term funding for crucial services.  He would like to see more discussion in the future about generating additional revenue.

"I think we need to start thinking seriously about a constitutional amendment to create a more fair tax system in the state of Illinois," Noland said. "We need to start talking about a graduated or progressive income-tax."

Pension reform

Lawmakers left town without coming to a final agreement on a pension overhaul for public employees. A measure that cleared a House committee yesterday was later shelved by Republican leader Tom Cross. After meeting with the governor, Cross says it became apparent that it wasn't going to pass.

"This got really ugly the last couple days, and I had some strong feelings about it," Cross said. "I still do ... but we’ve all got to put that stuff aside, we've got to get this done."

During the final week of the session Cross and Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan bickered over the pension bill.

In a statement following the end of the session, Quinn addressed the pension issue:

“While this has been a productive legislative session, our work is not done for the people of Illinois," he said. “...  we have not finished our work to reform Illinois’ pension system, which is drowning in an ocean of unfunded liability.

 

“As I have repeatedly made clear, inaction on pension reform is not a choice. We must fundamentally reform our pension system and we must enact bold reform that eliminates the unfunded liability."

Quinn said he will meet with Cullerton, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, Madigan and Cross in the coming week to forge a pension reform agreement as soon as possible and "return to Springfield to enact it into law.”

The new budget will include changes to Medicaid spending.  Earlier in the session, lawmakers approved deep cuts in the program and increased the cigarette tax to close a nearly $3 billion Medicaid shortfall. 

The approved spending plan retains funding for several state facilities the governor wants to close, including the Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford.  Even though the money is appropriated, Quinn has final say over their fate.  

Gambling

The General Assembly once again approved a gambling expansion bill that would allow five new casinos, including one for Rockford.  It also would permit slot machines at horse racetracks. But Gov. Quinn again has indicated he has problems with the proposal.

Similar proposals have passed the House and Senate in the past, only to be blocked by the governor. And it doesn't look much better this time around.

John Schomberg, general counsel for the governor's office,  detailed Quinn's concerns to a Senate committee:

  • The bill doesn't ban campaign contributions by gambling interests.
  • It lacks oversight for the Chicago casino license.
  • It gives the Gaming Board too short a time to act on a license application.

"But the governor's largest concern continues to be largely unaddressed: the ethical shortfalls," Schomberg said.

When the Senate was debating the measure, longtime gambling-expansion sponsor Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, urged the governor to sign the legislation. Links say he and Senate President John Cullerton filed follow-up legislation to address Quinn's concerns.

"President Cullerton and I were listening to you, governor," Link said. "We were listening and we filed this bill."

 It's an open question whether Quinn might finally change his mind on the gambling bill.