Illinois Governor Schedules Special Legislative Session – Will Casino Expansion be on the Docket?
Last week the governor of the state of Illinois, Democrat Pat Quinn, called for a special legislative session for lawmakers to address the state’s public employee pension crisis after the spring session wrapped up at the end of last month with no progress being made on that, or frankly any other, issue.
Quinn’s move comes on the heels of both Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service downgrading the Land of Lincoln’s credit rating. Already the worst in the nation, Illinois now enjoys a credit score that is just a few rungs up on the ladder from junk bond status.
Will gambling be addressed?
The special session, which is scheduled to begin next week on June 19th, is reportedly solely meant to address the pension issue. Being that the session is only set to be one day in length, it is unlikely that the topic of expanding casino gambling in the state, a hot-button issue that dominated local and statewide media coverage for much of the winter and spring, will be back on the table. A measure that would have put five new land-based casinos in Illinois failed to come to a vote as the spring legislative term drew to a close on May 31st.
Many proponents of the measure, known as SB1739, have pointed out that the pension problem, not to mention the other fiscal woes Illinois faces, including major education funding shortfalls, will require revenue to fix. The casino bill would bring fresh revenue to the state, supporters say. In addition to allowing the construction of new casinos, SB1739 would allow for the installation of slot machines in the two Chicagoland airports, O’Hare and Midway.
But then, a short one-day session is hardly enough time to solve the pension matter, either, given that months of legislative wrangling and public partisan scrapping failed to produce any results. While some folks, including the State Journal-Register, are predicting that the special session will squander time and taxpayer dollars, there are others who hope that pre-session wrangling will lead to a deal not only on pension reform, but on the casino bill as well.
Quinn wants no casinos before pension bill is complete
Governor Quinn has remarked on multiple occasions that he will not sign a casino expansion bill until the public pension issue has been solved. Quinn took office in 2009 after the state’s previous governor, Rod Blagojevich, was impeached for trying to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat, a crime for which he is now imprisoned in a Colorado federal penitentiary. The Governor has vetoed similar gambling bills in the past, and speculation ran high all spring that SB1739 would meet the same fate if it made its way to Quinn’s desk.
Speaking to the pension issue, a clearly frustrated Quinn said, “Time and time again over the past two years, I have proposed, asked and pushed members of the General Assembly to send me a comprehensive pension reform bill.”
“Time and time again, failure to act by deadlines has resulted in the bond rating agencies lowering our credit rating, which hurts our economy, wastes taxpayer money and shortchanges the education of our children. Illinois taxpayers are paying a price of $17 million a day for the General Assembly’s lack of action on comprehensive pension reform,” Quinn went on.
Quinn facing major opposition in 2014
The failure of the pension reform, as well as the stalled casino bill and a marriage equality measure that similarly failed to come to a vote before the session wrapped up, has left Quinn incredibly vulnerable heading into next year’s gubernatorial elections as many in the state see him as an ineffective leader incapable of brokering deals and getting anything done.
Already powerful opponents are emerging to challenge Quinn, including Bill Daley, whose father and brother both served as mayor of Chicago and who himself held the position of Chief of Staff in the Bill Clinton White House.
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