Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2013, 3:01 pm
Editorial: An irresponsible marriage
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
Senate President John Cullerton last week quietly sent to Gov. Pat Quinn a 2011 bill that would massively expand gaming in Illinois.
There has been scant attention paid to the Chicago Democratic leader's decision to lift a parliamentary hold he put on that very bad bill to protect it from an almost certain veto by Gov. Quinn.
Published accounts suggest Sen. Cullerton moved the bill, which is by far the worst gaming expansion plan the Legislature has ever passed, merely to do some procedural housecleaning.
"It's appropriate to lift all motions to reconsider at the close of the General Assembly," Cullerton office spokesman Rikeesha Phelon told the Chicago Sun-Times. "The bills passed both chambers, and the governor is free to act as he chooses."
Some Springfield observers speculate, however, that though he is playing his cards close to the vest, the Senate leader sent Gov. Quinn this bill in hopes that he would use it as leverage in the ongoing debate over pension reform. If that's true, we hope the governor immediately and resoundingly rejects such a foolish gambit.
An argument can be made for a careful gambling expansion measure that includes a Chicago casino. But there is a far more urgent need to address the crisis in Illinois public employee pensions that threatens to destroy a state fiscal house already in shambles.
It is the height of political irresponsibility to tie the one to the other, particularly using a bad bill that would increase the number of gaming positions in Illinois from 12,000 to 40,000, which includes a Chicago casino that would be overseen, not by state regulators, but by the City of Chicago. The bill is so bad the head of the state gaming board blasted it as "garbage" because it is so full of regulatory loopholes.
If there is a bit of good news, it is this: Because the bill was passed in the 97th General Assembly, the 98th General Assembly cannot override it. That means Gov. Quinn can kill it simply by vetoing it. We urge the governor to recall what he said in rejecting another bad gambling expansion bill that wasn't as awful as this one.
"Everybody should be concerned about ethics in our state. We have two governors, my predecessors, both in jail," he said. "That's a pretty darn important issue for our state to have integrity at all times in every part of government, and that includes regulating casinos. It must be airtight when it comes to protecting the public."
He was right then and we urge him to reject SB 744 quickly and decisively. But he must do more than that. He must not be drawn into any effort to marry gaming expansion to crafting a plan to resolve the state pension crisis, a problem Gov. Quinn has said he believes he was put on this earth to resolve.
Yes, governor, we must have pension reform, but not at any cost and certainly not at the cost of approving a measure that would create too loosely regulated casinos.
As we've said before, what the state needs is an expansion that builds a gambling industry that is strong and sustainable. We also have long supported a carefully regulated Chicago casino and continue to do so.
It was a mistake to shut the state's largest tourism draw out of the gaming picture when riverboats first were approved. Instead, we've seen too many dollars exported to casinos in Indiana and Wisconsin. But this bill and every other one we've seen so far does much more than that. Gaming outlets should be added because they make sense, not to pass a bill and not if they were to cannibalize gaming operations already in place.
Yes, indeed. Pensions and gaming are important AND complex issues. Marrying the two would be both irresponsible and dangerous, particularly if parlaying a pension reform plan for gambling concessions leads to bad public policy for both.
The governor and lawmakers must divorce the issues, then give both the careful attention -- and vetting -- they deserve.