06/01/2012 10:57 am ET

Illinois Pension Reform Stalls: Lawmakers Instead Approve Gambling, Strip Club Tax Bills

In the final day of their spring legislative session, Illinois state lawmakers approved a state budget plan and sent gambling expansion and strip club tax bills to the governor's desk -- and allowed the daunting issue of pension reform to collapse in the eleventh hour.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) on Thursday night told the House chamber that he and Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn -- who is pushing for an aggressive pension reform package -- came to an agreement to tackle pensions during a special summer session after state lawmakers "let our emotions settle down," the Associated Press reports.

"While this has been a productive legislative session, our work is not done for the people of Illinois," Gov. Quinn said in a statement late Thursday. "As I have repeatedly made clear, inaction on pension reform is not a choice. We must fundamentally reform our pension system and we must enact bold reform that eliminates the unfunded liability."

Cross agreed that "we got to get this done," even as he admitted that "this got really ugly the last couple days," ABC Chicago reports.

On Wednesday, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said that the General Assembly had arrived at a "breakthrough" on the pension legislation. He removed his name as the House sponsor of SB 1673 and transferred ownership of the bill to Cross, who opposed the contentious plan to charge schools to cover the cost of pensions. But, without Madigan's support, the plan lost crucial Democratic votes.

We’re all very disappointed that we did not resolve the pension question before the Legislature," Madigan said Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The Chicago Tribune notes that the state's pension system currently carries an $83 billion debt and is the nation's worst-funded. The issue is likely to have a major impact on the fall election, when all of the state's Senate and House seats come to vote.

"I think a lot of people are worried about what is going to happen," state Sen. Mike Jacobs (D-East Moline) told the Tribune. "And really you're asking Democrats to vote against their (union) base. It's a hard vote."

During a debate on the matter Tuesday, state Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) shouted and threw things during an impassioned speech against the legislation and the vote that moved it to the House floor.

Meanwhile, the state senate on Thursday narrowly approved a massive gambling expansion bill for the second year in a row, the Associated Press reports. The plan will create five new casinos statewide -- including a Chicago casino -- and will allow for slot machines at horse racing tracks. Gov. Quinn, an outspoken critic of the bill, will likely veto it.

State lawmakers also sent a strip club tax bill to the governor's desk. The plan will charge a new $3-per-head tax on anyone who enters a strip club that offers live nude dancing and permits alcohol. Revenue generated by the plan will fund sexual assault prevention programs and rape victim services.

Finally, the state Senate approved a new $29.36 billion budget, including large cuts to the state's Medicaid program.