Capital construction bill set back again by House vote

By Jeremy Werner

The Illinois House voted down Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s proposed gambling expansion plan to raise $34 billion for a statewide infrastructure rebuilding program that could have funded the renovation of Lincoln Hall and parts of Interstate 74.

The gaming plan would have approved the construction of a Chicago casino and two additional casinos, likely riverboats, and also would have allowed horse racing tracks to have slot machines.

The plan was approved by the Senate in May but fell short of the 71 votes needed to pass the House, by a vote of 47-55 on Thursday.

Rep. Bill Black (R – Danville) voted in favor of the plan but said the vote was a “sham, a complete waste of time” because of continuing clashes between the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan. He said the bickering Democrats make for a “toxic, dysfunctional family that can’t get anything accomplished.”

Black said gaming expansion is the only plan that had an opportunity to pass the General Assembly because it would not have been a tax on Illinois residents. He said it would have been nice to have had Lincoln Hall renovated by Abraham Lincoln’s 200th Birthday but said it is now “back to the drawing board.”

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Rep. Naomi Jakobsson (D – Champaign) voted against the plan saying she has “always voted against expanded gaming.” She said she couldn’t vote for a plan that would have made gaming larger than every state except Nevada.

She said the plan also did not line-item, or delegate, enough funds, giving the governor too much leeway with how the money would be spent.

“He promised the money for Lincoln Hall, and he’s never come through,” Jakobsson said. “He made a promise he didn’t keep. I can’t vote for $34 billion to give a man and not have him live up to his promises.”

Jakobsson said Illinois legislators “need to work together” to pass an infrastructure plan that works for all but said it’s a problem when the governor is not in Springfield reaching out to state officials.

Black said Springfield is the “most toxic atmosphere” he’s worked in and as a result, the state isn’t accomplishing much.

“Bottom line is we’re not going to go anywhere, or do anything until the top three Democrats (Blagojevich, Madigan and Emil Jones, president of the Senate) put aside their differences and put what’s best for Illinois,” Black said. “I don’t care if they like each other, go to dinner, or send each other Christmas cards. For too long, personality clashes have had an impact on the people of Illinois.”