Senate Week in Review: March 4-8

Springfield, Ill. – In his annual budget message delivered March 6, Gov. Pat Quinn laid out a $35.6 billion General Funds spending proposal for the coming year.

Once again, the Governor proposed a budget that relies on temporary revenues to fund permanent government services State Sen. Sue Rezin (R-Morris) said, explaining that the budget builds in expenditures based on the income tax increase that is set to expire in 2015.

Permanent Spending/Temporary Revenues
The practice of building long-term spending increases into budgets using short-term revenues has been characteristic of both Quinn and his former running mate, imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Although the temporary tax hike adopted by Quinn and his fellow Democrats in 2011 was sold to the public as a means of paying off the state’s backlog of bills, it has instead been used to fund ongoing state expenses, even as the bill backlog continues to climb. Illinois owes $1.6 billion more in unpaid bills today than when the tax hike was adopted.

Education on the Chopping Block
The Governor’s budget takes deep swipes at education funding in Illinois, both at the local school level and at public universities and community colleges.

“The past two years that I’ve been in office, the Governor and majority party have supported cuts to education funding,” Sen. Rezin said.  “I have never supported education cuts in those two years.  Once again, the Governor’s budget is designed to maximize the pain to education in Illinois in general, but to downstate and suburban schools in particular.  Funding for them continues to decrease while other areas of the budget are growing out of control.”  

By making significant reductions in a politically- and publicly-sensitive policy area like education, Sen. Rezin said the cuts were an obvious attempt to build political pressure for pension reform.  Yet, Sen. Rezin said the biggest challenge to achieving pension reform in Illinois is not a lack of pressure, but instead a lack of leadership from the Governor. While Quinn has offered vocal support for the concept of pension reform, he has neither produced his own plan nor rounded up votes for other plans.

Group: Quinn’s Job to Make Pension Reform Happen
As the non-partisan “Reboot Illinois” noted the day after the speech, “…as governor, it’s Quinn’s job to make it happen. So far, Quinn has a slim record of success in walking delicate and difficult legislation through the legislature’s political minefield.”

The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) proposal for Illinois’ operating budget totals $62.4 billion.  Of that amount, $31.2 billion originates from General Funds.  Included in this number is a $929 million increase for the state’s pension payment.

When spending items such as debt service payments and other statutory transfers are accounted for, total FY14 General Funds spending in this plan reaches $35.6 billion. This level of General Funds spending represents an increase of $1.2 billion over FY13.

Senate Republicans Offer Detailed Analysis
To encourage public participation in the budget process, Senate Republicans have made their own detailed internal analysis available to the public on their Web site

Gambling Expansion
In the speech, Quinn also opened the door to a gambling expansion. Within hours, supporters pushed a major gambling bill through the Senate’s Executive Committee, clearing the way for a vote before the full Senate. The measure would authorize a casino in Chicago, open the state up to Internet gambling, allow slot machines at horse racing tracks and allow four new casinos or riverboats in cities outside Chicago.

Details of Proposed Gambling Expansion
The proposed gambling expansion is contained in Senate Bill 1739 and includes the following major provisions:

•    Chicago Casino: Creates a “Chicago Casino Development Authority,” which would be granted a license for a 4,000-position Chicago casino. The Authority would be run by a five-member board appointed by the mayor of Chicago and vetted by the Illinois Gaming Board. The Authority would also be able to offer slot machines at O’Hare and Midway airports.

•    Internet Gambling: Authorizes Internet-based gambling, including Internet poker. Internet gambling would be limited to persons older than 21 and wagers could be accepted only within Illinois.  

•    Slot Machines at Horse Tracks: Allows for electronic gambling, including slot machines, at the state’s six racetracks – Arlington Park, Hawthorne, Maywood, Balmoral, Fairmont and Quad City Downs.  

•    New Riverboats/Casinos:  Authorizes four new riverboats or casinos in Rockford, Danville, Lake County and Southern Cook County. Each would be allowed up to 1,200 gambling positions.

•    Campaign Contribution Ban: Prohibits gambling licensees (including terminal operators from video gambling) and their affiliated entities (includes horse racing associations) from making political contributions to officeholders and candidates for the following offices:  State Constitutional Officers, General Assembly, county or municipal officeholders and candidates where a gambling facility is located or proposed, and county or municipal officeholders and candidates where the county or municipality receives gambling revenue.

Sen. Rezin appointed to two committees
Sen. Rezin has been appointed to serve as Co-Chair on the Senate Special Committee on Public Pensions and State investments as well as to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) by Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).  Sen. Rezin said she is looking forward to serving in both of these capacities in addition to her other Senate responsibilities.  She has long advocated for sensible and fair pension reform and hopes that the state will see reform this year.  

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