CHICAGO — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday called a massive expansion of gambling approved by lawmakers this week “excessive” and the fiscal 2012 budget “unfinished” because it leaves billions of dollars in bills unpaid and cuts education funding.
Quinn stopped short of saying he would veto the gaming package and the budget, but his comments at a news conference to discuss the General Assembly’s spring session that ended Tuesday raise questions over the fate of both.
The gambling package allows for casinos in Chicago, Danville, Rockford, Park City, and a site that has not yet been selected. Horseracing tracks could add slot machines at their facilities, and slots also could be operated at Chicago’s O’Hare International and Midway airports. Harness racing could be held at the state fairground up to nine months a year, with slots operated during that time.
“The people of Illinois don’t want an excessive gambling bill that is top heavy,” Quinn said. The Democratic governor has expressed support for a first-ever Chicago casino, but he believes the five new ones allowed under the gaming legislation are too many. He also called the state fairgrounds a “family” place, suggesting it was not the right venue for gambling.
The legislation’s sponsors said the expansion would generate $1.5 billion in up-front licensing fees for state coffers and then $500 million annually in new tax revenue. They also argued it will create thousands of jobs and halt the loss of tax revenue from gamblers who go to nearby casinos across state lines.
New Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who faces a $700 million deficit in the next city budget — lobbied Quinn and lawmakers heavily to support a casino license for the city. Under the legislation, the city would own the casino and be responsible for financing its construction.
“My hope is that the governor, when he weighs the equities here, will see the benefit economically, both in job creation as well as revenue we can then use to make further investments in the city’s physical infrastructure and in schools,” Emanuel said Wednesday.
Quinn said he would give a microscopic review to the 400-page legislation and seek public input before deciding whether to sign or veto the package. The votes in the House and Senate fell short of overriding a veto. “We want to make sure the people of Illinois come first,” he said.
The governor could also use his amendatory veto powers to alter the legislation. In that case, a majority of lawmakers must approve the changes or override the veto in a three-fifths vote. If they don’t act, the legislation dies.
On the $33.2 billion fiscal 2012 operating budget approved by lawmakers, Quinn said he would press lawmakers over the summer to increase school funding. The budget is $2 billion under what he proposed in general fund spending. “This budget needs more work,” Quinn said, citing his concerns over the level of funding for education along with health care and public safety.
He also said he will continue to push lawmakers to back some form of borrowing to pay down a backlog of overdue bills that could top $8 billion by the end of fiscal 2011 on June 30. Despite the failure by lawmakers to approve previous borrowing plans, Quinn appeared optimistic.
“We have to pay our bills. … Sooner or later, they [lawmakers] will agree,” he said of his borrowing proposals, which he has portrayed as a restructuring of debt. “It’s a good plan. It’s a sound plan.”
Lawmakers over the weekend voted down a bill authorizing $6.2 billion of debt with a seven-year debt service schedule to pay down bills. The operating budget does not address how those bills are now going to be paid. Lawmakers did, however, extend the time in the new fiscal year during which the state can pay off old bills to Dec. 31 from Aug. 31.
Democrats hold a majority in the General Assembly, but a three-fifths majority is needed to approve new borrowing authority and Republicans remain steadfast against any new borrowing without deeper spending cuts.
The fate of $430 million in additional spending on education, social services, and capital projects added to the budget by the Senate also remains uncertain since the House did not vote on the additions before adjourning.
About $150 million would have replaced a 4% cut in general state aid for education. Quinn’s budget proposed a $260 million increase. The General Assembly also has more work to do, as it did not adopt a fiscal 2012 capital budget.
The state started 2011 facing an estimated $15 billion deficit, but an income tax increase approved earlier this year cut that number nearly in half, as it will generate $6 billion to $7 billion annually in new revenue.