Democrats gain veto-proof majority in Illinois Legislature

Posted: Nov. 8, 2012 10:15 am Updated: Nov. 29, 2012 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

Illinois Democrats will have veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate next year, and politicians and pundits alike are debating what that will mean as they seek solutions to serious financial problems.

Democrats picked up seven seats in the House on Tuesday and will hold a 71-47 advantage over Republicans. Senate Democrats picked up five seats to lead 40-19.

Veto-proof majorities would give the Democrats the ability to override any vetoes by the governor -- as long as they vote as a block.

Steve Brown, spokesman for Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, does not like the term "veto-proof majority" and downplays its significance. He doubts that Democratic lawmakers will all agree on an emotional issue such as pension reform -- one of the top issues facing the state.

"The Democratic party does not walk in this big monolithic lockstep," Brown said. "In some cases, (the majority) could make it easier to do some things and it could make it harder on some things."

On the day after the big Democratic surge in Illinois, Brown mentioned the need for the party to reach across the political aisle.

"I think it's still going to take a bipartisan coalition to take on some of the big issues," Brown said.

Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, agreed that not all Democrats or Republicans vote together on most issues. But based on more than 20 years covering the statehouse for the Chicago Sun-Times, Wheeler said the supermajorities held by Democrats are important in at least two ways.

"It's significant because they can enact a budget in overtime with no Republican input" when a three-fifth's majority is needed after May 31, Wheeler said.

Democrats also could use a three-fifths vote to approve a bonding plan, without a need for Republican votes or input.

"Will the Democrats borrow money to pay off the bill backlog? When interest rates are so low, as they are right now, it probably makes sense to pay off old bills," Wheeler said.

Bonding has been put forward as a way to cut the state's costs because in some cases there are penalties when payments are more than a month late. With a state backlog of more than $8.5 billion and some penalty costs of 12 percent annually, lawmakers have said it would be cheaper to bond and pay 4 percent or less to cover those bills.

On other issues, Democratic lawmakers say the size of the majority is not so important.

Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, rejected the idea he wait for the higher number of Democrats to take office next year before seeking to override Gov. Pat Quinn's veto of a gambling expansion that Lang sponsored this year. He plans to seek an override in the veto session that starts later this month and concludes in early December.

"Whether it's gaming, pensions, health care issues, the Legislature should act when we have the ability to act," Lang said.

Quinn told reporters he didn't see the Democratic gains as a threat to his veto powers.

"I don't know where that ever came from," Quinn said.

While Democrats are celebrating their gains, Republicans are debating whether to oust their leaders from the House, Senate and state GOP.

Illinois Republican Chairman Pat Brady said the party will have to re-evaluate this year's strategy and do something different.

"Whatever we did didn't work," Brady said.

Christopher Mooney, a University of Illinois at Springfield political science professor, said this year's Democratic landslide could put the spotlight on the party when things go badly.

"It's unlikely they're going to just cram through something crazy. One it's hard to get everybody on board, and even if they did, they're going to pay for it down the road," Mooney said.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.