Legislative leaders say they have outline for funding capital plan

Eric Naing

Top legislative leaders said Friday they've devised a general outline to pay for a major construction program by tapping into a variety of money sources.

In what he called a "very productive meeting," Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, met with the other three legislative leaders at the Statehouse to discuss a roughly $26 billion dollar capital construction program. The funding plan could be brought up for a vote next week.

Cullerton and the three other leaders next will meet with their members to discuss details. If there are no concerns, the legislature could take action later in the week.

"Things are coming together," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. "Like next week possibly coming together."

To pay for the plan, Cullerton said a "potpourri" of revenue sources is being considered, hitting the lottery, video poker and other options. Funding for the construction plan would also include federal road money.

One source would be to hand over management of the Illinois Lottery to a private firm.

Under this proposal, Illinois would still maintain ownership of the lottery. Holding up South Carolina as a model, Cullerton said Illinois could potentially earn more money with a better-managed state lottery.

"If we had the same per-capita sales as they do, we would have an extra $200 million dollars," he said.

Another potential revenue source being considered is a tax on wine, liquor and possibly beer. Radogno said this tax would be "just a matter of cents, like 14 cents maybe."

Up to 45,000 video poker machines across the state may also be legalized in bars, truck stops and fraternal clubs as a way to raise money. There are already about 65,000 video poker machines in Illinois, leaders said.

"They're already out there and we wanted to make sure that the state's getting the revenue that it could get from the activity that's already going on," Radogno said.

The legislative leaders said they also were looking at extending the state sales tax to include some sweetened beverages, as well as health and beauty products that are currently tax-free.

Cullerton defended the idea, saying this move is not technically a new tax.

"These are not new sales taxes at all," he said. "Shampoo should not be taxed differently than medicated shampoo and that's what all this is about."

Cullerton ruled out raising the state's gasoline tax, an idea talked about earlier this year. But increasing vehicle fees is still an option.

Bob Reed, a spokesman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said the governor was aware of the meeting and will consider all revenue options presented to him. Quinn has pushed for lawmakers to end a decade-long stalemate on a major construction plan this spring.

"He believes a capital plan is essential to getting people back to work," Reed said. "The sooner it is passed, the better."

Aside from the capital plan, legislators also want to tackle ethics reform and approve a budget before they leave for the summer. The legislature's goal, Cullerton said, is to finish up by May 29, ahead of the May 31 scheduled end date.

Eric Naing can be reached at (217) 782-3095 oreric.naing@sj-r.com.