SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois House committee Wednesday shot down a massive gambling-expansion bill previously approved by the Senate that supporters said would have provided the state with more than $1 billion a year in new revenue to pay for state services.

By DOUG FINKE


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


SPRINGFIELD -- An Illinois House committee Wednesday shot down a massive gambling-expansion bill previously approved by the Senate that supporters said would have provided the state with more than $1 billion a year in new revenue to pay for state services.


The vote came a day after Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration conducted a conference call with social-service providers and others to warn them of spending cuts that would result if lawmakers approved a small-growth state budget proposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.


By a 20-2 vote, the House Gaming Committee rejected the Senate bill that would have added four Chicago-area casinos, allowed the state’s nine operating casinos to expand and authorize video poker in casinos to raise at least $1 billion a year for state coffers.


Madigan previously warned that the House would not go along with such a massive expansion of gambling, and Wednesday’s vote was intended to send that message.


“On budget negotiations with the Senate and the governor, there’s been conversation that the Senate bill is sort of hanging out there as a possible solution to the budget,” said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, who sponsored the Senate bill in the House and voted against it.


“I think it was appropriate that we have a hearing to establish once and for all whether this was a bill that was going to move through the House,” Lang continued. “Now we know it is not a bill that is going to move through the House.”


Lang said he thinks some form of gambling expansion will still be part of a final budget agreement, though he would not venture a guess as to how large an expansion it will be. He sponsored his own gaming bill that was similar to the Senate version in calling for four new casinos, expanded operations at existing casinos and slot machines at horse racing tracks.


But Madigan and other lawmakers have said they only want to allow existing casinos to expand as a way of paying for a construction bond program for the state.


“I think we’re going to let the dust settle for several days, and let’s see how the budget negotiations go,” Lang said.


They appear to be going nowhere fast. Madigan keeps emphasizing that the House has already passed a budget that will take care of state expenses for the fiscal year that begins July 1.


The Blagojevich administration and Senate President Emil Jones, though, say the House budget is flawed.


On Tuesday, the governor’s people took their message directly to organizations reliant on state funding, arranging a conference call with social-service providers and other groups to discuss programs that will see funding cuts if the House budget ultimately is enacted.


The administration prepared nine pages of briefing papers that detailed spending reductions, including $42.3 million from the Home Services program, $2.2 million from Centers for Independent Living and $7 million from mental health grants, not to mention the elimination of 400 jobs at the Department of Human Services.


“I heard from some of our constituents. They were shocked the governor’s office would take this approach,” said Don Moss, a lobbyist who represents 50 not-for-profits for people with disabilities.


“They were shocked that his office would want them to become directly involved in the budget struggle.” Moss said. “We’re mostly not-for-profit agencies. We can’t take sides and get involved in these disputes. We don’t want any of the heavy hitters angry at us.”


Blagojevich spokeswoman Becky Carroll said the administration did not ask the service providers to get involved in the budget impasse.


“These are informational meetings with various organizations about the status of the budget process and an analysis of how their programs and services are impacted by the House budget,” Carroll said. “They walked away with information they can use in any way they choose.”


Madigan spokesman Steve Brown scoffed at the administration’s effort.


“It didn’t sound like it went over real well,” he said. “It’s another segment of the ‘defeat your allies’ program they tried in 2004. It’s the same strategy they tried then.”


The General Assembly set a record for overtime in 2004, and at the time, Madigan was held out as a major stumbling block to a budget resolution.


Blagojevich, Madigan and the two Republican leaders met again Wednesday for more budget talks, but no progress was reported.  Jones, D-Chicago, was unable to attend because of illness.


Frustration over the lack of progress spilled over on the House floor Wednesday when Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, delivered a lengthy tirade against Blagojevich.


“The governor has spent more time on his running diary — tracking his running time, temperature and wind speed — than he has on any legislative item,” said Franks, a frequent Blagojevich critic. “The governor has shown that he can campaign, but he has yet to show that he can govern.”


Franks also said Blagojevich should appear before the House and answer questions about federal subpoenas delivered to his administration and other ethics issues dogging the administration.


 


Adriana Colindres of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.