SPRINGFIELD-A dormant gambling expansion bill that would bring a casino to Chicago moved to Gov. Pat Quinn’s desk Tuesday after the state Senate’s top Democrat quietly lifted a parliamentary paperweight that he’d placed on the plan nearly two years ago.
The likelihood that the governor would affix his signature to the package seemed remote since Quinn once belittled the effort as “top heavy” and “excessive,” and the top state gambling regulator whom the governor appointed called it a “pile of garbage.”
Before the close of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) removed a parliamentary hold he’d put on the bill immediately after it passed the Senate in May 2011.
By releasing the hold, Cullerton now puts Quinn in a position where he could, should he choose to, use the legislation as a bargaining chip in his stalled pursuit of cuts to state pension benefits. The Senate president has been an active supporter of gambling expansion, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed hard for a city casino.
The state Constitution gives Quinn 60 calendar days to act on the gambling bill – two months into the spring legislative session when presumably finding a way to solve the state’s $95 billion pension crisis will remain on the frontburner after lawmakers whiffed at efforts to pass a pension bill this week.
Until the end of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Cullerton had pressed for passage of a pension-cut package he helped craft that would have affected current and retired state workers and members of the General Assembly.
The governor wasn’t on the same page with Cullerton on that pension plan, saying Tuesday it wasn’t “comprehensive” enough. Meanwhile, Emanuel didn’t help muster votes for a state pension plan Quinn liked this week in the House.
Cullerton’s 2011 parliamentary maneuver on the gambling bill, referred to in the legislative vernacular as a motion to reconsider, had the effect of putting the measure into a deep freeze by preventing it from going to the governor even though it had passed the House and Senate.
“It’s appropriate to lift all motions to reconsider at the close of the General Assembly,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times late Tuesday. “The bills passed both chambers, and the governor is free to act as he chooses.”
The plan, sponsored by Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills) and Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), would lead to casinos in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County and downstate plus permit slot machines at racetracks and, possibly, the city’s two airports.
Even before its passage, Quinn had communicated his displeasure toward the bill and later demanded a series of changes to it in order for him to consider accepting it, including prohibitions on gambling contributions.
Shortly after its passage, Quinn characterized the gambling legislation as “top heavy” and “excessive” and last August vetoed similar casino expansion legislation. Lawmakers did not mount an override of that veto last fall.
Late Tuesday, an aide to Quinn gave a murky answer when asked about the governor’s intentions with the older gambling bill now bound for his desk. She referred a reporter to previous statements the governor had made about the bill but did not say outright if Quinn would veto the package.
“You know where he stands,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said in an email response.
Because the 97th General Assembly is now in the history books, Quinn can sign or veto legislation that lawmakers sent him before Tuesday. But there is no way for the Legislature to override anything he rewrites or vetoes, meaning Quinn can outright kill legislation with the stroke of his pen.