Democratic Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is calling the push by some state legislators to vote on gambling legislation a "distraction," but isn't stopping the bill's sponsors from pushing for debate this week.
At stake is a bill that would open more casinos in the state, with current proposals from Danville, Rockford and Waukegan in the running, according to the Alton Daily News. An additional, more controversial clause of the legislation would allow slot machines to be operated at race tracks like at Arlington and Balmoral.
The bill's Senate sponsor, Terry Link (D-Waukegan), says the debate could begin mid-week, and House sponsor Lou Lang (D-Skokie) told the WBEZ that the bill's job-creation prospects outweigh Quinn's concerns:
The governor’s against it, but we think we want to save the 40,000 jobs in the agri-business industry...I feel strongly that the economic development and job creation that the bill creates is something that we ought to move forward.
While supporters say the added revenue could be crucial for the cash-strapped state, Quinn has called the push to hear gambling legislation a "distraction" from more pressing issues.
"I think we've got to keep our eye on the prize, and the prize is complete restructuring and reform of two programs that need fundamental overhaul," Quinn said, according to the Chicago Tribune.
On Monday, the governor appealed to civic leaders at the City Club of Chicago to back his proposals for Medicaid and pension reforms, which would adjust qualifying standards to help contend with a nearly $90 billion budget shortfall facing both programs, according to CBS Chicago. Quinn wants the legislature to prioritize his reforms before adjourning at the end of this month.
Quinn has already been stalling gambling expansion in the state by consistently stating his opposition to the bill, even after it was approved by the General Assembly last year. The measure was put on a legislative hold by Senate President John Cullerton (D) in a parliamentary maneuver and never reached the governor's desk.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been pushing back gently against Quinn on the matter, promising to invest the city's take of gambling revenue into investment projects including school renovations, "L" train upgrades and improving or replacing aging water mains and viaducts.
A poll of 800 "likely Illinois voters" conducted by Public Opinion Strategies found that 62 percent of voters say they would support "a proposal to generate revenues by...allowing slot machines at race tracks" and adding more casinos, compared to 33 percent who would oppose expansion, according to the Daily Herald.
CORRECTION: This story previously stated that Gov. Quinn had withheld his signature on the legislation. Though he has opposed the gambling expansion bill, the measure has never actually reached the governor's desk for him to either approve or veto it, even after the state legislature OKed it.