Thursday, May 24, 2007

New boats?

While House Speaker Michael Madigan has said he would consider expanding gaming to generate money for road and school construction, the Senate is working on two significant gaming measures potentially for education, construction projects and health care. Sen. James Clayborne, a Belleville Democrat, says he’s in negotiations to draft legislation that could create three or four new casinos in the Chicago area, although he didn’t know whether they would be land-based or riverboats. “I think that we should look long-term to make the industry competitive, and we should consider all options,” he said Thursday morning. “So that’s still being worked out.”

Clayborne also said negotiations include discussion about such ways to help racetracks remain competitive by allowing slot machines or charging boats “impact fees” that would offset some racetrack losses.

His proposals resemble a measure introduced by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, that also would create four new casinos and add slot machines at racetracks. But Madigan announced Wednesday that the House would need Republican support to approve an expansion of gaming, which is significant because the chamber’s Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego said again Thursday he doesn’t want to add new casinos. At the start of this session, he led House Republicans in proposing a $5 billion capital plan ($3 billion for roads and mass transit, $1.5 billion for schools and $500 million for higher education) paid for by allowing existing casinos to add gambling positions.

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. wouldn’t say, however, how he felt about new casinos when he walked out of budget negotiations in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office today. All he said was, “I’ve been here long enough to know that nothing’s ever dead,” referring to the governor’s gross receipts tax. Blagojevich spokeswoman Rebecca Rauch said the governor is willing to consider gaming as a way to help advance his priorities: health care, education and making businesses pay “their fair share.”

Meanwhile, Clayborne also is revising a second measure that would exempt all Illinois casinos from the statewide smoking ban for five years. He recently tried to exempt only casinos operating near state borders as a way to help East St. Louis. He said the city estimates it would lose $2 million in revenue because people wouldn’t be able to smoke in its casinos. He expanded the scope to heighten the chance of his measure winning approval. “We’re looking to exempt all the boats because obviously we need the support of those legislators from [districts with casinos].”

Success in taming gang violence?
A program aimed at decreasing gang violence is working wonders in some areas of the state but not others. State legislators discussed potential problems hindering the success of the CeaseFire project during a House committee Thursday. Under the program, ex-offenders and community activists are deployed into communities to mediate problems that may lead to gang violence.

Rep. Annazette Collins cited workers not getting paid on time and some getting fired in her district representing the East and West Garfield neighborhoods of Chicago. Program director Dr. Gary Slutkin has yet to look into those allegations, he said. Rep. La Shawn Ford said outreach workers in the Chicago Austin neighborhood don’t have a chance to work with probation and parole officers to help other ex-offenders stay out of prison.

Other lawmakers were very pleased with the difference the program has made in their districts. Rep. Robert Flider, a Mount Zion Democrat, spoke highly of the project and the work of outreach worker Brandy Brown, who turned her life around as an ex-offender. She works with school principals, church pastors, social agencies, probation officers and law enforcement to create strategies to prevent gang violence in Decatur. “I walk the streets from 7 a.m. to midnight helping ex-offenders, gang members and children stay out of jail,” she said.

A few legislators asked to work with the director to assimilate some of the things that are being done in Flider’s district. Rep. Esther Golar, who represents Chicago’s Englewood area, was interested in some of the Decatur strategies as she described recent gang violence as being “explosive.”

Statewide, the program since 2004 has mediated more than 900 gang conflicts and saved between $100 to $200 million that would have been spent on medical care for shooting victims and on incarcerating offenders.

No comments: