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Suburban lawmaker pushes gambling as tax hike alternative
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

State Sen. Terry Link

 

Associated Press

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Published: 5/30/2009 1:44 PM | Updated: 5/30/2009 1:45 PM

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SPRINGFIELD - With tax hikes stalled at the Capitol, one suburban lawmaker said gambling expansion should be reconsidered as a possible state budget fix.

"I think it should be very strongly considered because we need some kind of revenue to get out of here," said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat and gambling expansion advocate.

A Link-sponsored plan that would have added three new casinos, slots at horse tracks, and let existing floating casinos expand their gambling options and move off the water.

That plan recently came two votes short of approval but Link used a parliamentary move to keep it alive for a possible second try.

Gov. Pat Quinn had hoped to win approval of an income tax increase on Friday to help fill a nearly $12 billion budget hole. But it quickly became apparent that Democrats - who control state government - aren't keen on the increase and Republicans say they won't add any votes.

Cue gambling expansion.

"I think you're going to have to consider some strong options and gaming and other things should be options, " Link said.

Time is running short for a budget deal. Lawmakers have scheduled session throughout the weekend in hopes of striking an accord before the midnight Sunday deadline. Beginning June 1, approving a budget - or just about anything else - requires the support of 60 percent of lawmakers rather than a simple majority. In the House that'd mean Democrats would have to reach across the aisle for Republican votes. Currently Democrats could approve nearly anything if they could all agree.

For now, Republicans are resigned to sitting back and seeing what Democrats can do.

They claim Democratic leaders have left them out of the process until the last minute when they came calling for help with a tax increase.

"The bottom line is they screwed the budget up last year," said state Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican. "They're really hurting a lot of people around the state. Not-for-profits that have grants and contracts have nothing in this budget. At the end of June their contracts run out."

The stalemate has Capitol observers again pondering what happens if there's no deal.

Under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's reign, timely budget deals were rare. Lawmakers had grown accustomed to lengthy, expensive overtime sessions that pitted them against the Democratic governor.

Last year, Democrats sent Blagojevich a budget that was known to be billions of dollars out of balance and simply told him to use his authority to balance it. He responded by closing state parks and historic sites in many of his political rivals' areas.

But the budget was still unbalanced when Blagojevich was arrested for allegedly trying to shake down state contractors, a children's hospital and those seeking appointment to Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich was then impeached and ousted from office by lawmakers. He now awaits trial on federal corruption charges.

Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor, was elevated to the governor's office upon Blagojevich's ouster and inherited the avalanche of red ink.

The budget imbalance remains and has worsened in the sinking national economy. The deficit over the current and next budget years is estimated at more than $12 billion but there appears to be no appetite among lawmakers to cut or tax the state out of it. Quinn proposed a 50 percent increase in the individual income tax rate, to 4.5 percent from 3 percent.

"I don't know that there is an alternative," Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, told reporters after the tax vote stalled Friday.

One scenario increasingly mentioned at the Capitol is to once again send the governor a budget that doesn't solve that problem but keeps government running - that is until agencies run out of money sometime in the months ahead.

"We'll just continue to try and operate state government with the resources that are available," Brown said.

In that case, education would likely fair better than others as its spending plan is being propped up with billions of federal stimulus dollars. The Illinois House already sent to the Senate the outline of a budget that would allow the state to capture more than $4 billion in federal stimulus money that'd be plugged into, but not necessarily expand, education and health care spending.

Such a spending plan could get lawmakers out of the Capitol before the June 1 deadline, though they'd likely have to come back later to fix budget problems as they arise.