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Kadner: Casino override ‘very close,’ Rep. Lang says

State Rep. Lou Lang

State Rep. Lou Lang

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Updated: December 21, 2012 6:17AM



State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) said the Legislature is “very close” to overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would award casino licenses to the south suburbs and Chicago.

“We will have the votes in the House,” said Lang, the chief sponsor of the gambling bill in that chamber. “We don’t have enough votes in the Senate right now, but we’re getting very close.

“We’re still hoping there will be an agreement reached with the governor, but if there’s not we will attempt to do something when we return to Springfield on Nov. 27 for the veto session.”

Senate Bill 1849 would create five new casinos in Illinois (with licenses designated for the south suburbs, Chicago, Danville, Rockford and Park City) and for the first time allow slot machines at horse racing tracks. Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the bill in August.

But a spokeswoman for the governor now says he is “very committed to working together with legislators” to pass a gambling expansion bill.

State Sen. Terry Link (D-Waukegan) was the chief sponsor of the measure in the Senate.

“Sen. Link and I have repeatedly asked for a meeting with the governor to sit down and discuss this bill,” Lang said. “We want to work out our differences. We will put any language in the bill that he wants. But he hasn’t gotten back to us, and the window of opportunity for him to give us his input is closing.”

Lang has repeatedly told me over the past year that Quinn has refused to work closely with legislators to pass a casino bill.

Quinn’s spokeswoman has said the governor expressed his problems with the casino bill in detail. To emphasize the point, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson emailed a copy of Quinn’s veto message of the bill.

In it, Quinn said he wants a ban on campaign contributions from gaming licensees and casino managers. He also says the bill does not give the Illinois Gaming Board the same regulatory authority over the Chicago casino that it has over all other casinos.

In addition, the bill does not subject Chicago casino contracts to the Illinois Procurement Code.

“Such a complete lack of oversight will leave the Chicago casino’s numerous procurements vulnerable to organized crime, unsavory influence and potentially overpriced vendors,” the governor said.

Finally, the governor said he wants revenue from any new casinos to provide more money for education.

This last point was emphasized to me in a telephone call Monday by Anderson, who said, “The governor wanted me to communicate that he understands your concerns for the education-funding challenges facing this state.”

I have long championed the cause of public school funding, but I am also well aware of the history of politics, gambling and education in Illinois.

For decades, the state tried to sell the Illinois lottery as an education-funding mechanism. For many years, however, instead of increasing the state education fund a dollar for every dollar raised by the lottery, the Legislature shifted money to other state programs.

Even if every dollar in new casino revenue were allocated to education, you couldn’t prevent the Legislature in the future from shrinking the amount of dollars it allocates to the public schools from the general revenue fund — or more likely refusing to increase the amount going to the education fund as other tax revenues increased.

The sad fact is that Illinois now ranks dead last in the nation in its share of funding for public education, and that’s not by happenstance.

In fact, state lawmakers are now considering a proposal that would shift the funding of downstate and suburban teacher pensions onto local school districts, a decrease in state financial support for public education that will not show up on the ledgers.

Lang expressed outrage that Quinn would continue to allow northwest Indiana casinos to make millions of dollars from Illinois customers.

“This is a terrible economy where our state is suffering, and Indiana is creating jobs and generating revenue that ought to belong to Illinois,” Lang said. “I don’t understand how our governor can sit by and let that happen.”

But Quinn isn’t the only one letting this happen.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is talking about delaying action on a casino bill until January, according to the CapitolFax newsletter, which said a spokesman for the speaker indicated Madigan was pessimistic that a compromise could be reached then.

Quinn’s spokeswoman said the top priority for the Legislature ought to be pension reform.

I believe even state lawmakers can walk and chew gum at the same time and act on both pension reform and casino gambling.

On the gambling bill, Quinn’s right on the issues of campaign funding and gaming board oversight.

Instead of linking education funding to gambling, I believe the Legislature and the governor should abide by the Illinois Constitution, which states that the state “has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.”

No person under the common understanding of the word “primary” would interpret that to mean a level of 27 percent, which is where the state funding level now stands.

There should be expansion of casino gambling in Illinois.

The state should increase the amount of money it provides to public schools.

But gambling revenue and school funding should not be linked.



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