Illinois veto session to pit lawmakers against governor

Posted: Nov. 26, 2012 10:23 am Updated: Dec. 17, 2012 12:15 pm

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois legislators who return to the capitol building for the veto session this week may try to deal with most of the governor's budget vetoes in a single vote.

"I think that's still the plan," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville.

Gov. Pat Quinn cut more than $55 million from the Illinois Department of Corrections through a veto earlier this year. Courts have blocked the closings of prisons targeted by Quinn, and many legislators are angry about threatened closings within their districts.

Quinn wants to shift money from prisons and some care facilities to the Department of Children and Family Services.

A veto override on the prison cuts would be part symbolism and part power politics. Quinn is not obligated to spend the prison funds, but would be blocked from transferring funds elsewhere.

"The governor has the authority to spend or not spend that money" within the budget, said Sullivan, who supports the veto override.

"Maybe it would be a point for leverage down the road."

Annual state budgets are usually based on the previous year's budget. Sullivan said a veto override could set a different foundation that sustains the state's corrections system, even if the Legislature and governor remain at odds on prison spending.

Supplemental budget bills also may come up for a vote after Comptroller Dan Rutherford said several state agencies may not have enough funds to cover costs through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.

Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said a House bill that calls for borrowing $4 billion to take care of overdue bills has been discussed.

Rep. Esther Golar, D-Chicago, hopes to see her bonding bill come up for a vote during the veto session. It has been touted as a way to pay off nearly half the overdue bills owed by the state and could save money by paying 4 percent interest or less, rather than the 12 percent penalty due on many overdue bills.

Tracy does not support the borrowing measure. She would rather see a general overhaul of state spending to prevent future overspending.

"We have a systemic problem with the way we spend money," Tracy said.

Sullivan proposed similar bonding issues in the past that won Senate passage, but were held up in the House. He said it's significant that this year it is a House bill that revives the issue.

"During the election a big part of the discussion was about restructuring that debt," Sullivan said.

Expanded gambling, shaping up a few weeks ago as a veto-override clash, could be sidestepped during the six-day veto session in favor of a possible agreement with Quinn in January.

A massive expansion of legalized gambling -- twice approved by the General Assembly but never given Quinn's blessing -- looked ripe for an override.

Proponents of allowing five more casinos in the state -- including one in Chicago -- and slot machines at horse racing tracks say it's necessary to increase state revenue and compete with neighboring states luring away Illinois gamblers and their pocketbooks. Quinn has objected, saying the plan lacks regulatory oversight and fails to put money toward public education.

Quinn told The Associated Press earlier this month that he believes a compromise is in the offing with assistance from House Speaker Michael Madigan.

For nearly 20 years, the Chicago Democrat has recused himself from negotiations about gambling to avoid a potential conflict of interest with his private law practice, which he said might serve clients interested in casino development. Madigan no longer faces a conflict and has orchestrated discussions designed to lead to a deal.

"It's a very big issue, and the speaker, with good reason, likes to involve himself in the big issues," said gambling bill sponsor Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, "So ... perhaps he can be helpful in the process of getting the governor to the table."

Senate President John Cullerton favors a negotiated pact, but hasn't committed to action before January, when lawmakers are scheduled to meet next, spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

Quinn's office did not respond to requests for comment. In earlier comments to the AP, Quinn sounded uncharacteristically upbeat about a casino plan.

"I'm optimistic we can put something together," he said.

Lawmakers also are considering:

º Legislation that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses.

º A veto of a Quinn assault weapons ban.

º A resolution scolding the Illinois Commerce Commission for failing to work on a Commonwealth-Edison Smart Grid as directed by the Legislature.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.