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Block on Chicago casino bill could stay in place through fall

Updated: June 23, 2011 2:11AM

SPRINGFIELD — A parliamentary hold Senate President John Cullerton placed on legislation that would authorize a Chicago casino could stay in place through the fall, the top Senate Democrat said Wednesday.

That pronouncement came on a busy day when lawmakers sent Gov. Pat Quinn a spending bill to preserve funding for billions of dollars in construction projects and gave final approval to a plan to cut lawmakers’ pay.

Cullerton’s move is aimed at buying time for negotiations with Quinn on a follow-up bill designed to narrow the scope of the gambling package that passed in May with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s backing.

That legislation would authorize five new casinos statewide, including in Chicago, and allow slot machines at racetracks, but Quinn has signaled his potential opposition by describing the legislation as “top heavy.”

“There’s no sense in giving it to him to veto it,” Cullerton told reporters.

Even though the bill passed the House and Senate, Cullerton has the power under Senate rules to keep the legislation in his chamber through the end of this term of the General Assembly, which ends in January 2013.

On other legislative fronts, the Senate gave final approval to a measure that would require legislators to take 12 unpaid days off in the upcoming fiscal year and reduce their mileage, food and lodging reimbursements.

The $67,836 base pay for legislators will reduce their income by more than $3,000. The legislation also blocks a 1.1-percent cost-of-living increase they were due, which amounts to another $746 in lost earnings.

“I believe the message this sends today is we’re wiling to sacrifice,” said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the bill’s chief Senate sponsor.

But not everyone in the Senate favored the pay cuts, including Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago), who was among the “no” votes on the 48-4 Senate roll call.

“I could do it for free if I was rich, but I’m not,” she said, speaking about her job in the Legislature. “I have mouths to feed. I have myself to take care of. I’m not going to pretend I’m rich and can do it free.”

Also Wednesday, the House and Senate resolved a dispute over a construction appropriations bill by each passing a measure that stripped out $430 million in spending that Senate Democrats had sought in May.

The legislation was welcomed by Quinn, who pushed both chambers to come back to Springfield to finish this last piece of the budget now on his desk.

“The General Assembly took action today to keep the state’s biggest economic recovery program going, ensuring that thousands of workers stay on the job,” the governor said in a prepared statement.

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