State construction program stalled in Legislature's last hours
A $34 billion public works construction program, to be paid for by expanding gambling and leasing the Illinois lottery, stalled Saturday in the Illinois House, hours after it was approved by the Senate.
Both the House and Senate adjourned their spring session Saturday night.
That means the next chance for a capital bill to pass the General Assembly probably is during the veto session in November, although Gov. Rod Blagojevich could call lawmakers into special session earlier than that. The governor gave no indication Saturday what he plans to do.
Blagojevich’s office issued a statement saying that “despite the House Democratic leadership’s effort to kill the jobs bill, this is only the beginning.”
Supporters of the plan accused House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, of keeping the proposal from coming to a vote.
“Everybody in the state knows we need capital,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego. “Are you the only group that doesn’t know we need capital now?”
Madigan blamed the governor for alienating rank-and-file House members.
“Because of his style of governing, which is a style that brings on conflict and confrontation rather than conciliation … a majority of the House simply does not have enough trust in Gov. Blagojevich,” Madigan said during a news conference following the session.
Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, also complained that the plan did not identify specific projects to be funded. Instead, it allocated millions of dollars for urban development or bike paths or water projects without saying which ones.
“We’d be nuts to give a blank check,” Franks said.
Blagojevich himself showed up in the House chamber, lobbying members to support the plan.
“It was nice to see him on the floor,” Madigan said.
The Senate program, contained in a half-dozen separate bills, included a plan to lease the Illinois lottery for at least $10 billion and use $7 billion of that for construction projects. It also called for three new casino licenses, selling an unused license, allowing the state’s nine existing riverboats to expand and allowing slot machines at horse racing tracks.
The package died when a House committee refused to take up the lottery lease, but the full House also voted to table gambling expansion.
Lawmakers from both parties have long said the state desperately needs new roads, bridges, schools and many more construction projects. Despite that, the General Assembly has not approved a new public works program for nine years.