Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan on Monday proposed replacing the current Illinois Gaming Board with a paid board that would oversee gambling in Illinois. He said expanded gambling is inevitable to finance the state's capital program.
CHICAGO - Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan suggested Monday that some kind of gambling expansion is inevitable to finance a state capital program but said a new and fortified Gaming Board should oversee the growing casino industry.
The Chicago Democrat also announced plans to revive a financial bailout plan for Chicago-area mass transit on Friday, even though a regional sales tax increase central to the plan is opposed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Republican legislative leaders.
Public transportation and the gaming-for-capital plan are intertwined as the Chicago Transit Authority prepares to begin imposing service cuts and fare hikes on Sunday to offset chronic budget deficits. Madigan wants to prevent the so-called "doomsday" for commuters, but Republicans have said they want a capital-construction program to benefit their districts in return.
Madigan said the House will come up with the necessary minimum of 71 votes, including some votes from Republicans, to approve the transit-relief package. The Senate is scheduled to convene Friday.
"We will see what the House sends us, if anything," said Cindy Davidsmeyer, spokeswoman for Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago.
Jones has not opposed raising the regional sales tax a quarter-cent. But the GOP caucus led by Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, believes transit officials should consider budget cuts and "reasonable" fare increases instead, a spokeswoman said.
House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, has suggested an alternative: shifting a share of the state sales tax on gasoline to the region's transit agencies. Madigan said that's a bad idea because it would create a hole in the state budget.
The issue of transit riders' fates surfaced as Madigan sought to focus attention on his proposal to overhaul the Gaming Board.
A capital plan the Senate approved recently would raise $13 billion for construction projects by authorizing three new casinos, including one for the city of Chicago, and by allowing existing riverboats to expand. Madigan would not say whether he'll support more than a Chicago casino, but he said gambling is politically the "only viable way to have a public works construction program."
"Gambling is something to be avoided -- by everybody," he said at a Chicago news conference.
Madigan proposed replacing the Illinois Gaming Board with a "truly independent" panel to oversee a larger gambling landscape. Unlike today's board of volunteer appointees, the new gaming panel would not be part of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration.
The carefully selected board of paid experts would generate their operating funds through annual fees from casino operators, Madigan's office said. Meanwhile, Gaming Board operations would be governed by new ethical safeguards, such as stricter "revolving door" prohibitions on regulators who try to get jobs in the gaming industry.
Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for Blagojevich, said the administration is interested in reviewing Madigan's proposal to revamp the board. The Democratic governor supports the Senate-approved capital plan and its gambling component.
Besides the CTA, the Pace suburban bus system plans to implement fare hikes and service cuts if aid from Springfield does not arrive. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley on Monday held a news conference urging state lawmakers to find a solution.
"This is do-or-die time," Daley said.