House passes bill allowing Chicago casino — but vote not veto-proof
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND ANDREW MALONEY Staff reporters May 23, 2012 4:52PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:09AM
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House passed a scaled back casino-expansion package Wednesday but fell two votes shy of the supermajority needed to fend off a likely veto by Gov. Pat Quinn, who blasted the measure for having “major ethical shortcomings.”
The legislation allowing for a Chicago casino, which was sponsored by Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), passed by a 69-47 margin, with two voting present. The roll call needed to reach 71 “yes” votes to be considered veto-proof.
Even if the Senate passes this measure, its failure to reach that vote threshold in the House is significant because Quinn set the stage for spiking the bill if it winds up before him.
“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,” the governor said.
Quinn condemned the measure for failing to ban campaign contributions from gambling interests and shorting the Illinois Gaming Board on time to make “critical licensing and regulatory decisions.”
He also faulted the legislation for not establishing “clear oversight” of a proposed Chicago casino and of selecting casino vendors.
“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,” he said.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) both cast “present” votes, leaving open the possibility of getting to 71 votes. Madigan has a history of voting “present” on gambling issues because of a conflict involving his law firm, but Currie voted “yes” on a casino expansion bill that passed the Legislature last May but was never sent the governor.
“I think just a couple of people at the end decided they would wait for another time,” Lang said. “I’m pretty sure that several people who did not vote for the bill today will be there for a veto override, and I would predict that we’ll have the votes to override a veto.”
Earlier, during a lengthy debate, Lang said his proposal that also would authorize a south-suburban casino, one in Lake County as well as casinos in downstate Danville and Rockford, would help the host communities and provide a major infusion into the state’s faltering budget — $1.2 billion in licensing fees.
“Is this a panacea for all of our ills? Of course not. Can it be a step toward building a better economy? Absolutely it can,” Lang said.
The plan marks the second time in less than a year that the House approved a major gambling package. The last one also passed the Senate but never was forwarded to Quinn because he had assured a veto.
Under Lang’s latest plan, slot machines would still be authorized at the state’s racetracks, which is one of the items generally considered to be a deal killer from Quinn’s perspective.
But it would allow fewer new slot machines and gaming tables at casinos, from 2,000 to 1,600, and wouldn’t allow casino gambling at Chicago’s airports or at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.
Opponents complained that the casino expansion wouldn’t generate as much as Lang promised, would cannibalize revenues from existing casinos, almost certainly be vetoed by Quinn and would hit the state’s lower class hardest.
“What we’re saying to the state of Illinois is we’re going to take money from those least able to pay the price for the privilege of casinos generating revenue,” said Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon).
On another legislative front, Senate Democrats pushed through a $33.7 billion budgetary framework whose sponsor, state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), said “protects our priorities.”
The House-bound package included no funding cuts for schools, assumes $1.6 billion in health-care cuts for the poor, devotes $5.1 billion toward pensions and pays down $1.3 billion in unpaid bills, she said.
But Republicans blasted the plan as a take-it-or-leave-it budget facing certain doom in the House because it was moved before deals on Medicaid cuts and pension reforms have been reached. Further, the GOP railed, the measures hikes spending so the income-tax increase due to expire in 2014 will be “cemented.”
“It’s a Groundhog Day budget,” Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) said.