Madigan walks out of heated meeting of state's top politicians

Published: 11/14/2007 2:26 PM

Illinois most powerful politicians walked out of a heated meeting today with no deal but with promises to assemble again as early as this afternoon.

Left on the table: new casinos, slot machines at racetracks, billions of dollars for new roads and schools and a bailout of the CTA, Pace and Metra.

"It became very unproductive and that is why I'm leaving," said House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, who left the meeting about an hour before the other legislative leaders. "There was just a lot of non-productive shouting and threats and allegations."

The governor and other legislative leaders blame Madigan for holding out on a major casino expansion that supporters say would bring in billions of dollars for new roads and schools while also generating cash to prevent sweeping transit service cuts and fare hikes.

Madigan wants to raise the sales tax to bailout the CTA, Pace and Metra and has been lukewarm on new casinos. He has recently called gambling a social evil that ruins families. Senate leaders said the sales tax won't find support on their side of the state Capitol.

The meeting, called for by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, appeared to not go far in pressuring Madigan to back down, and the political rhetoric against him continued after the two-hour meeting.

"It is not a one person show," said Senate President Emil Jones, a Chicago Democrat, of Madigan's refusal to go along. "If he wants to kill money for the CTA, the monkey will be on his back."

The backdoor meeting also included Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, who laid out his preferences for a city-owned casino and transit bailout. Daley declined to publicly back any specific plan to bailout the transit agencies.

Meanwhile, Madigan refused to comment further on the shouting and accusations, but he said he was unhappy most of the talk focused on casinos instead of transit.

Jones said the dispute was between Madigan and Democratic state Sen. Ricky Hendon over mandatory minority ownership and revenue sharing rules tied to the new casinos.

Blagojevich used that dispute to indicate Madigan was racist.

"Speaker Madigan is the only one who doesn't agree that African Americans ought to participate in the ownership of the casinos," Blagojevich.

Each legislative leader, other than Madigan, said there was some agreement on the number of casinos the major building program would include. But they all gave a conflicting number. At the high end, the deals included there new casinos, with one in Chicago, and slots at the state's racetracks, including Arlington Park.

Given the continued political posturing and intra-party fighting, it remains unclear how productive any further meetings will be in reaching a deal after months of gridlock. Regardless, Madigan said he would spend the afternoon hashing out a new casino bill with House Republican Leader Tom Cross of Oswego.

The governor said he would like to continue meeting with legislative leaders this afternoon or tomorrow at 10 a.m.