Thursday, November 29, 2007

The 12th month

The Illinois House is working on a plan to expand gaming as a way to pay for a long-awaited infrastructure projects around the state. That plan is highly anticipated because it has potential to unlock the entire, gridlocked legislation session of 2007. Downstate lawmakers say they won't vote to subsidize Chicago-area mass transit until a statewide capital plan materializes.

But while gaming negotiators say there are only a few issues to work out before a gaming bill comes through, there’s another set of negotiations that could potentially further delay an actual deal. As spelled out by Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat and House Gaming Committee chair, Thursday, the challenge is never ending: “So there’s going to be $X billion in capital. What’s on the list? Who gets what? When do they get it? How do they get it? What’s the priority? How do you make sure that people get what they’ve been promised?”

Once those questions are answered, there’s still the question of whether those plans would have any future in the Senate. Lang said after Thursday’s special session that he didn’t know.

Those types of incremental steps have drawn out the entire session, all 12 month’s worth. Yes, Gov. Rod Blagojevich again threatened to call state lawmakers into special sessions throughout December if they can’t agree on how to subsidize Chicago-area mass transit and finance the statewide infrastructure plan. “There is the possibility we could have special sessions every day as we get closer and closer to Christmas,” Blagojevich said outside his Capitol office Thursday afternoon. December marks the seventh month of overtime session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan told his members to expect a four-day notice if they were to be called back to Springfield in December.

If the governor does resort to calling special sessions, there’s a chance lawmakers would simply “gavel in” and “gavel out,” or convene and then adjourn without doing any actual business until a deal is made. That’s been the case in many of the 18 special sessions so far this year. The governor’s office says at least they’re in the same building and more likely to meet. “They’ve made little noticeable progress over the past several weeks when they were not in session,” said Abby Ottenhoff, Blagojevich’s spokeswoman, in an e-mail. “When they are in session, they are at least talking and working toward a solution.”

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