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Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn at odds over casino bill

Gropening new Rivers Casino DesPlaines brought thousands be part  history-making day.  |  Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

Grand opening of the new Rivers Casino in DesPlaines brought thousands to be part of the history-making day. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday had their first public disagreement — over the massive expansion of casino gambling that would give Chicago a $150 million-a-year jackpot.

It started when Emanuel tried to light a fire under Quinn to sign the bill that would authorize a city-owned Chicago casino and slot machines at O’Hare and Midway Airports.

One day after ticking off the wish lists of schools, roads and CTA stations he hopes to build with casino cash, Emanuel talked about the other side of the equation: the steady “withdrawal” of state and federal funding that has created the infrastructure crisis.

Arterial streets that used to get $40 million a year from the state now get no state support, and industrial street reconstruction hasn’t been funded since 2007, the mayor said.

The last “significant funding” for viaducts was in 2003. And sidewalk reconstruction that got $21 million a year in 2002 now gets less than $8 million, he said.

“I cannot allow Chicago to fall to second-place. I will not let that happen,” the mayor said.

“I will not allow Chicago’s future to be held hostage by Washington’s inaction. And I will not allow Chicago’s future to be held hostage because the state obviously has other financial issues and their resources have been drying up over the years.”

The mayor’s pressure tactic didn’t work with Quinn.

The governor accused the mayor of “putting the cart before the horse” and spending casino money he doesn’t have. He advised Emanuel to talk to Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe about Jaffe’s concerns about a bill Quinn claimed has “serious shortcomings” when it comes to “honesty and integrity” and preventing corruption.

“I don’t think there is any person with common sense looking at the legislation today who would say that it has sufficient protections for the public,” Quinn said.

“No mayor, no politician, no racetrack owner or casino owner is gonna put themselves before the people of Illinois as long as I’m governor. ... Our gaming board for 20 years has regulated this industry scandal-free. We’ve kept the bad guys out, and we’re gonna keep ‘em out. We’re not gonna have any lax or lenient provisions in the law that allows the wrong kind of characters to get involved in gambling in Illinois. My job is to keep them out — and I will.”

Union leaders who gave the cold shoulder to Emanuel’s demand for cost-saving work-rule changes lined up behind the mayor on the casino bill because their members desperately need jobs.

In a joint statement, Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez and Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, noted that Chicago’s infrastructure has “outlived its design life” and needs repair.

“Not only will projects such as school construction, road repairs, mass transit improvements and water main renovations mean a better city for all Chicagoans, but they will also create as many as 20,000 jobs for city residents,” the statement said.

“Using gaming revenue for infrastructure could free up additional funds to address other needs that are critical to maintaining a world-class city for Chicagoans.”

Although a parliamentary maneuver has kept the casino gambling bill from the governor’s desk, Quinn has called the bill “top-heavy” and in desperate need of a re-write. He has spent most of the summer deliberating with no end in sight.

Emanuel is clearly getting tired of waiting.

“I can’t think of another thing to do … if we want to be in control of our own destiny,” he said.

“To compete against Shanghai, to compete against Paris, to compete against Hong Kong, to compete against L.A., Chicago has to rebuild its infrastructure and put its people to work.”

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