Wednesday, November 09, 2011

House plans additional session to finish business incentive plan

By Jamey Dunn

UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 10: Speaker Michael Madigan announced on the House floor today that members of the chamber will return for session on November 29. That is a change from last night's announcement of November 21. 

Lawmakers will likely be returning to Springfield later this month to wrap up a plan intended to keep businesses in the state.

As the legislative session was drawing to a close this evening, it was announced on the House floor that legislators should be prepared to return to the Statehouse for session on November 21. Veto session was originally scheduled to last through tomorrow. “It will be an opportunity for the House Revenue Committee to report a tax incentive bill,” House Speaker Michael Madigan said after the announcement. When asked whether the tax incentive package, which began as a plan to keep the CME Group from making good on threats to leave the state, would be addressed, Madigan said, “That’s the plan.”

A spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton said Cullerton is “surveying his members” to see if they are available for more session days.

Cullerton introduced a bill that would cut taxes for the CME Group, which owns the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade. CME representatives said the recent income tax increase would result in the company owing the state $158 million. Republicans demanded other business friendly provisions and said they would not support a bill that was geared to only one business. Sears is also looking for incentive to stay in the state. Since the introduction of the bill, wish lists from all sides have been piled on, and Madigan seems to be seeking more time to iron out a deal that can pass.

Additional session days would allow sponsors who have been unable to drum up support for their bills more time to try an find “yes” votes.

One such sponsor could be Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang. Senate Bill 1849, a revamped version of a gaming expansion package, failed to pass today in the House. Lang said yesterday that he was seeking a veto-proof majority, but the bill failed to gain even the simple majority needed to move it over to the Senate.

Lang said the new bill was a better version of a gaming package that lawmakers approved last spring. “This bill provides less gaming and more oversight.” He said he took Gov. Pat Quinn’s complaints about SB 744, which Quinn vowed to veto, under consideration when drafting the new plan. But in the end, the sticking point is allowing horse racing tracks to have slot machines. Quinn is opposed and Lang and Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link, who is the gaming point man in his chamber, say a gambling expansion cannot pass in the legislature without them. Quinn’s office did not respond to an inquiry about the governor’s position on SB 1849.

“The first thing that the governor said was, No help for our agribusiness people. No help for central and southern Illinois. 'No help for you. You’re on your own. You’re on your own. Oh, we’ll continue to cut jobs in your communities. We’ll close facilities in your communities,'” Lang said during floor debate. “It would make me angry if I lived in central Illinois.”

Lang attempted to tweak legislative frustration with the governor toward his favor, but in the end, it may have been Quinn’s opposition that pulled off of this new bill at least some of the original 65 “yes” votes for the larger gaming package approved in spring.

Madigan said Quinn’s opposition to slots at horse racing tracks and what most see as an inevitable veto for SB 1849, if it should pass, may have damped support. “That could dissuade people from voting yes.”

“Clearly several people who voted for this in May did not vote for it today. I had several members who voted no last time that told me that they were going to vote yes today,” Lang said. “We’ll get to the bottom of it and figure out if we can find the necessary votes to pass it by tomorrow.”

Lang said legislators should not allow Quinn’s veto threats to sway their votes. “That happens around here a lot. And that would be not a proper way to make legislation. We have a Constitution that provides for three coequal branches of government, and I would hope that legislators would not abdicate their responsibilities under the Constitution worrying about what [the governor] might do if we pass a bill.”

Other issues could bleed into extra session days. House Minority Leader Tom Cross has yet to call, SB 512, his plan to reduce pension benefits for workers hired before reduced benefits kicked in this year. The deadline has passed to override Quinn’s budget vetoes, which include a cut to Medicaid reimbursements for hospitals and an unpopular cut to funding for school transportation. Without a corresponding rate cut, the Medicaid reduction would essentially push bills into next fiscal year. The vetoes stand, so lawmakers may look to make budget tweaks in the near future.

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