Illinois senators returned to Springfield Monday hoping to work out a compromise on a mass transit funding bill and a construction bond program.

Illinois senators returned to Springfield Monday hoping to work out a compromise on a mass transit funding bill and a construction bond program.


 


There was no indication they had reached their goal, though Senate President Emil Jones told them to be prepared to vote on a capital bill today (Tuesday).


 


Jones, D-Chicago and Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, R-Greenville, huddled for more than two hours with Gov. Rod Blagojevich trying to find some common ground on the two issues.


 


“I don’t know if I’d say we are close, but we got a lot accomplished as far as just talking this thing through,” Watson said.


 


Jones did not speak with reporters after the meeting.


 


The latest plan reportedly involves placing a land-based casino in Chicago and adding two more riverboat casino licenses at unspecified locations. Also, existing casinos will be allowed to expand their operations.


 


Money from gaming expansion would allow the state to embark on a multibillion-dollar capital program for roads, bridges, schools, mass transit and other projects.


 


However, even if the Senate were to approve a capital bill based on gambling expansion, it would still have to pass the House, where Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has expressed skepticism that a large-scale gambling expansion has enough votes.


 


“His comments that there is not much support for a big gaming expansion in the House remains unchanged,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said Monday.


Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, said the Senate is “playing games down here again.”


 


“I think all four leaders and the governor have to be on the same page for this to work,” Silverstein said. “I think it’s pretty good (bet) it’s dead on arrival in the House.”


 


A capital bill and a mass transit funding bill have become intertwined in the General Assembly.  The House fell 10 votes short of approving legislation that would have provided $430 million to Chicago-area mass transit systems. Many Republicans refused to vote for the bill unless capital spending for projects statewide also was approved.


 


“Republicans said they needed a capital bill,” said Sen. Donne Trotter, D-Chicago, a top budget negotiator. “We can get that off the table, with passing a capital bill, we should have a better chance of passing (a mass transit) bill as well.”


 


The mass transit bill that failed in the House relied on a regional sales tax hike and increased real estate transfer tax in Chicago to raise the revenue. Trotter said the Senate is also looking at a version of that bill.


 


However, Blagojevich has said he would veto the bill if it reaches his desk. Instead, he wants to eliminate a series of business tax breaks to pay for mass transit.


 


“That is certainly not on top of the stack (of options),” Trotter said. “Many of those have been floated before and they have failed.”


 


Chicago mass transit systems initially said they would have to cut services and increase fares by Sept. 16 without a state bailout. Blagojevich last week cut a deal to give the systems their annual state subsidy in one lump sum to keep the systems fully operating until Nov. 4.  If no solution is reached by then, even deeper cuts could be in store.


 


But Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said she isn’t buying that.


 


“I’m tired of the ‘doomsday’ word,” Radogno said of the term used to describe the cuts/fare increases. “I think it’s nonsense.”


 


Adriana Colindres of GateHouse News Service contributed to this report. Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.