Friday, June 01, 2007

Happy June 1

The clock struck midnight, and instead of hearing a chime, the Senate heard bombs nose diving into the ground. That was the sound of Senate Democrats whistling in anticipation of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s universal health-care proposal failing when called for debate at midnight, the scheduled adjournment of the regular spring session. Accepting the lack of support for the governor’s plan, the Senate leadership continued business but had to postpone voting on the full measure. They’ll be back for more legislative action Friday before leaving for the weekend and returning in overtime session Tuesday, June 5.

In the final hour, Republicans mustered enough energy for the last stand against the Democrats’ proposed four new casinos. “You couldn’t get it together for a budget, but somehow in the 11th hour, you get it together for gambling,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican. Sen. Carole Pankau, a Roselle Republican, questioned the motives of selecting four areas around Chicago and said it didn’t “smell right.”

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. briefly walked around the Democratic side of the chamber before calmly sitting to his chair. As Republicans threw out a barrage of verbal cuts, Jones didn't seem the least bit fazed by their remarks. He didn't flinch.

But one of his own party members, Sen. James Meeks of Chicago, sat quietly, and it was hard to tell if the look on his face reflected anger, fatigue, disgust or disappointment. He voted against the casinos, saying earlier he preferred a way to raise money for education without relying on gaming.

The measure still had enough support from 30 senators to advance to the House. Democratic Sen. James Clayborne, the measure’s sponsor from Belleville, said he hopes House Speaker Michael Madigan will decide that expanding gaming is good for the state because it will create jobs and increase education funding. Madigan has already said there isn’t enough support for four new casinos, but some Democrats and Republicans could approve a limited gaming expansion to fund road and school construction.

The Senate also approved the House's version of a revenue package expected to generate $300 million by closing "corporate loopholes," a.k.a. tax breaks. But they still don't have a full budget. Both chambers will have 30 days to debate and agree on revenue and spending plan before the next state budget takes effect July 1.

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