Illinois lawmakers pass budget, deadlocked on pension reform

Illinois lawmakers approved a tight budget into the early hours Friday morning.

Legislators also managed to pass a massive gambling-expansion plan for the second year in a row. The proposal creates five new casinos, including a land-based site in Chicago and four more riverboat casinos. It also allows slot machines at horse racing tracks to allow the industry to bring in gambling dollars.

The bill could produce at least $300 million in tax revenue for the state every year.

It now goes to Governor Pat Quinn for his signature. The Legislature adopted a similar measure last year but never sent it to the Governor because Gov. Pat Quinn said he'd veto it. He has frowned on this version too but lawmakers say they added safeguards that the Democratic governor suggested.

"The budget is done and of course the budget is not one bill, its multiple bills, some with partisan support and some bipartisan. It's reflective of the state's very difficult financial situation." State Sen. John Sullivan said. "It was a very tough budget. There were cuts pretty much across the board for every agency. The state had to make the difficult decision to get their budget in line with revenue."

Legislators originally proposed cuts totalling $258 million on mandated categorical items such as special education and transportation, however, they brought that number down to $208 million over what was to be cut last year.

"At least when you know what the budget is you can deal with it. Painful as it may be, you can deal with it," outgoing Quincy Public School Superintendent Lonny Lemon said. "But this is real uncertain, so I would think that districts that, for instance, are hiring right now are really in a quandry on whether they should or not or try to absorb those spots for a year until they find out.

"So that will be a pinch. I think would be the hiring process. But you're right, until we, we're under contract with most of our unions right now, so it's going to be an interesting summer."

Lawmakers will go back to Springfield this summer for a special session to take up the controversial issue of the state's underfunded and struggling pension system.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross pulled his version of the pension plan which would call for pension costs to be picked up by school districts and universities. Cross says he's shelving the legislation at Quinn's request.

In a statement, Quinn says he's calling a meeting with top Democratic and Republican leaders in the coming week so they can come up with a pension reform agreement. The Democratic governor says inaction on pension reform is not a choice.

KHQA reporter Jim Whitfield contributed to this story.