Illinois veto session ends with many issues unresolved

Posted: Dec. 6, 2012 10:28 am Updated: Dec. 27, 2012 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Senior Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Illinois House members left town Wednesday without voting to override funding cuts for four correctional facilities, prompting Gov. Pat Quinn to declare victory for his budget trimming plans.

"These closures will strengthen our long-term effort to cut state expenses and put Illinois on sound financial footing," Quinn said.

Quinn cut $56 million from the budget this year and called for closure of two prisons, two juvenile detention centers and three halfway houses. Opponents of the cuts note that Quinn's plan does not save tax dollars, since the governor wants to move most of the money to child protective services. He will seek legislative approval for that move in January, an aide said.

Facility closings also may be decided in the courts. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union has won at least a temporary reprieve through a judge's ruling that facilities must remain open for now.

Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, said downstate lawmakers were prepared to override the governor's veto, but lawmakers north of Interstate 80 apparently were not.

"It was almost symbolic anyway. We can tell him he can't spend the money, but we can't tell him where he has to spend it," Hammond said.

Quinn's budget office said closure of Tamms and Dwight prisons will save $88 million a year.

House members had started the day expecting to vote on legislation that would make Illinois the third state in the U.S. to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. This week, the Senate overwhelmingly approved the plan to allow illegal immigrants to obtain drivers licenses. The plan would allow the estimated 250,000 illegal immigrant who drive in Illinois the ability to get temporary licenses and insurance without facing deportation.

"The only thing I can figure is that they saw some glitch. I think we'll see that bill next month," Hammond said.

The five-day veto session -- where lawmakers also defeated Quinn's proposed assault weapons ban -- set the stage for what could be a blockbuster lame-duck session in January, when Quinn has set a deadline to deal with Illinois' worst-in-the-nation pension problem.

The governor spent much of the year calling for an overhaul, provided outlines on what he thinks would work and launched a social media campaign to build support. On Wednesday, lawmakers introduced their own bill to address the estimated $95 billion in unfunded liability.

Hammond visited with one of the pension plan's authors and believes it is a good starting point, but it may change in the coming days.

"They're tired of waiting on leadership to come up with a plan" and wrote one of their own, Hammond said.

The proposal includes cost-of-living increases for retirees and requires workers to contribute more to their retirement. A Quinn spokeswoman said the Democratic governor welcomed the contribution.

Other issues that might come up next month are medical marijuana and gambling expansion. Quinn recently said he's open to a compromise on a gambling expansion, which Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports. However, Quinn says it won't happen without addressing pensions first.


The Associated Press provided information for this story.