Gov. Pat Quinn was asked last week about the status of a proposed expansion of gambling in Illinois.
The plan would add five new casinos, including a long-sought gambling hall in Chicago, and allow slot machines to be installed at the state’s existing horseracing tracks.
The expansion proposal, in its general outline, isn’t anything new. Quinn and the legislature have been at odds over the details since he came into office.
Each time a new version surfaces, Quinn voices a reason to keep it on the back burner.
On Monday, the Chicago Democrat told reporters that pension reform must be completed before gambling expansion can be dealt with.
For now, lawmakers are in the midst of a two-week break from Springfield. They are home in their districts or on vacation until April 8, when they return for an eight-week marathon that is scheduled to end on May 31.
Before leaving town, the House made some serious moves toward approving some of the pension changes that could help bring the state out of its tailspin and, perhaps, lead to a deal over gambling.
They approved a plan to limit annual cost-of-living adjustments for retirees receiving over $25,000 per year. By cutting the size of the COLA and delaying those payments for five years after retirement or until age 67, the proposal would reduce the state’s unpaid pension liability by $100 billion over the next 32 years. If you believe the so-called actuarial assumptions.
The House and Senate have approved four pieces of a pension overhaul, dealing with an increase in the retirement age and a ceiling on pension payments.
Eventually, each element could be put into one omnibus pension reform bill.
But, nothing so far has surfaced in the House that would address Senate President John Cullerton’s plan to ensure the bill meets constitutional muster.
He proposes to do that by giving retirees a choice between taking a COLA or accepting state-paid health insurance.
Unless Cullerton suddenly backs off of his demands or if the House, under House Speaker Michael Madigan, suddenly adds the constitutional language, the push for pension reform and everything else, like gambling expansion, will remain on life support.
With the House getting most of the attention in recent weeks for its work on pension reform, don’t be surprised if Democrats in the Senate return next week and try to push something forward.
Not just gambling
There are a number of high profile issues that could be dealt with beginning next week.
Efforts to legalize gay marriage have ground to a halt in the House.
Despite a federal court ruling directing lawmakers to get moving, the legislature also isn’t any closer to legalizing the concealed carry of loaded weapons in public. The clock on concealed carry runs out in early June.
Proponents of medical marijuana also are lacking the votes to move the issue toward Quinn’s desk.
And, don’t forget the state budget. Lawmakers have to figure out how to fit a size 13 foot into a child-size slipper when it comes to balancing the wants and needs of the state against the money that’s available.
Each and every high-profile issue, including gambling, could become part of the ultimate in deal-making that comes with the territory in Springfield.
For good measure, there’s also the gubernatorial election next year. Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and the posse of Republicans thinking about running all are thinking about how their actions this spring will affect the outcome in 2014.
Lots of bills
Although the pension issue remains the biggest elephant in the room, lawmakers haven’t slowed down in their efforts to make lots of new laws.
It is not uncommon for legislators to file more than 3,000 bills during the spring. Midway through the spring session, there are still approximately 500 bills awaiting action in just the House alone.
Among the initiatives that have won early House approval was legislation that makes it illegal for children under the age of 18 to use a tanning bed even with parent approval.
The House also OK’d a measure allowing people undergoing treatment for cancer to qualify for a disabled parking placard.
And, even though the state’s prisons are overcrowded, the House approved a plan that would require an individual convicted of aggravated battery against a police officer to serve 85 percent of their sentence.