SPRINGFIELD -- Facing the prospect of approving an austere budget that cuts funding to school kids, poor people and the disabled, the Illinois House Monday approved a massive expansion of gambling designed to pump more money into state coffers.
The measure, which would add five casinos and allow horse racing tracks to offer slot machines, was among a slew of last-minute budget wrangling underway in the Capitol on Memorial Day.
Democrats who control state government worked into the evening to approve a spending plan that is an estimated $2 billion less than what Gov. Pat Quinn wants. Republicans said the package spends more than what the state can afford.
"I believe this budget will be out of balance because they haven't corrected the systemic nature of the spending," said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington.
State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, said the proposal doesn't do enough to address the massive backlog of bills the state owes to vendors.
"The bottom line is, people are going without getting paid in the state," McCarter said. "And the more that we spend above what we take in, we're going to continue to spread that time out, and that's just not right, that's not being honest with people."
Republicans weren't alone in voting against the budget. State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, cast a "no" vote on the 13 pieces of legislation that were sent to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.
"I think we can get more done working together than by fighting each other all the time. I don't like shoving a budget down the Republicans' throats just as I wouldn't want them shoving one down my throat," Jacobs said.
Supporters said the gambling plan, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by Quinn, could raise as much as $1.5 billion in added revenue for the cash-strapped state in the coming fiscal year and then bring in another $500 million annually after that.
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, who voted in favor of the expansion, said he doubted the plan would do much to help the state weather the upcoming fiscal year. But, he said it would eventually begin helping to restore cuts to a number of programs, including 4-H programs, soil and water conservation districts and county fairs.
"There is a lot in that bill for downstate Illinois," Rose said.
In addition to granting a casino license to the City of Chicago, the proposal would allow new casinos in Lake County, Danville, southern Cook County and Rockford. The state's existing 10 casinos would be allowed to expand their gambling positions.
Race tracks, including the shuttered Quad-City Downs and the Illinois State Fairgrounds, would get slot machines. Slots would be allowed in the secured areas of O'Hare and Midway airports in Chicago.
State Rep. Rich Morthland, R-Cordova, said he backed the plan because it will create jobs in his region.
"We have to look at getting Quad-City Downs going again. That will be exciting," Morthland said. "I just think it was a vote I had to make."
All told, Senate Bill 744 would add 27,000 gambling positions in the state.
Although the budget is nearly done, the Senate is still hoping the House takes up legislation that would add $430 million in spending to the budget. The additional money would keep school and university funding flat and add money back to human service programs.
That issue could be dealt with Tuesday, the final scheduled day of the spring legislative session.