Ahead of Illinois Special Session, Casino Expansion Supporters Keep Hope Alive
On the eve of a special legislative session that has been called in the state of Illinois to address pension reform, there are many in the state who believe that in the absence of any kind of accord among the two houses comprising the legislature, the session will be little more than a waste of time and taxpayer money.
Yet, there are some who still hold out hope that in the course of the necessary dealmaking involved in getting legislation passed, a casino expansion bill that died in the Illinois House of Representatives late last month may have a shot at resurrection.
That bill, known as SB1739, would have allowed for the construction of five new casinos in Illinois, including one in downtown Chicago that would serve as direct competition for casinos in Wisconsin and Indiana that currently attract a steady stream of patrons from the Chicagoland area.
Credit downgrade inspires special session
The governor of Illinois, Democrat Pat Quinn, called legislators back to address the pension crisis in the wake of a credit downgrading by two major credit reporting agencies earlier this month after attempts to reform the Land of Lincoln’s pension program failed to gain traction before the spring legislative session drew to a close on May 31.
Illinois not only has the worst credit of any state in the nation, but it always has the largest public pension deficit among all fifty states.
No agreements ahead of June 19 session
If there is one thing that everyone in Illinois can agree on, it’s that nobody can agree.
“It really doesn’t look like there is much movement,” said State Senator John Sullivan, a Democrat representing Rushville.
“The Senate has been willing to sit down and try to work out a compromise, but the House and the speaker just seem to be locked in on (the House plan). It’s already been voted down in the Senate. We just can’t really see any desire to sit down and try to come to a mutual agreement,” Sullivan was quoted in the Peoria Journal Star.
The lack of the legislative body to come to any consensus on how to fix what is arguably the state’s most pressing problem is exactly what has gambling proponents in Illinois worried. Many believe that the legislature is simply incapable of reaching compromise on the pension issue, or on any other issue, including gambling.
$40,000 a day to be footed by taxpayers
To make matters worse, this week’s special session will be costing taxpayers $40,000 per day. Each legislator will receive a $111 per diem payment to cover meals and other incidental expenses. Some Illinois residents are calling for the legislators to donate that payment to charity.
Governor is in a vulnerable position with election looming next year
In the weeks since the spring session wrapped up with no progress toward pension reform nor a handful of other measures seen by Illinoisans as being very important, criticism of Governor Quinn has reached a fevered pitch. Already a slew of candidates have announced that they plan to challenge Quinn in next year’s gubernatorial election, having deemed the Governor a poor leader incapable of exerting political pressure.
During the run-up to the end of the spring session, Quinn managed to anger some powerful forces in Illinois politics, among them Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel has been a vocal supporter of expanding casino gambling in the state, even going so far as to release a video depicting how he would use the money generated by a Chicago casino property. Facing the largest school closure in the city’s history, Emanuel urged support of the measure by outlining the educational improvements he intended to make utilizing casino revenue.
Whether or not a surprise compromise is made to include casino expansion – a situation that would bring direly-needed new revenue to Illinois, say backers – remains to be seen. Check back with us as we continue to follow this story.
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