By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — As quickly as Gov. Pat Quinn vetoed the last remaining gambling expansion bill earlier this month, he said he finds a new piece of Illinois gaming expansion legislation much more to his liking.
The main drawback with the new bill for agriculture groups, however, is that earmarks in previous bills designating millions of dollars for the 4-H, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other ag interests have been stripped out of the newer bill.
Getting the designated funding added as the legislation, state Senate Bill 1739, is considered this spring, is a key goal of some downstate lawmakers and ag representatives, who have said ag funding is a small amount of the estimated $400 million in annual taxes expansion could generate.
Under the bill Quinn most recently vetoed, from the 2011 legislative session, ag groups stood to receive $5 million for county fairs; $10 million for soil and water conversation districts; $4 million for University of Illinois extension; $1 million for the Forestry Fund for CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) Forestry Assistance Program; $2.5 million for the state’s historic sites; $2.5 million Parks and Conservation Fund for operations costs; and $100,000 in equine research to Illinois public universities.
The Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) has remained neutral on gaming expansion overall, noting many farmers are opposed generally to adding more gambling options in the state. The latest legislation adds five new casinos to the already existing 10, including one for Chicago, Rockford, Lake County, south suburban Chicago and Danville.
It also allows for slot machines at racetracks, but not at the two state fairs, which had been a part of previous proposals and one of Quinn’s key points in vetoing the bills. He also wanted to see bans on political contributions from any casino interests, something that is included in Sen. Terry Link’s (D-Gurnee) new bill.
“A ban on campaign contributions by gaming licensees and casino managers … is essential to keeping corruption out of the gaming industry,” Quinn said, in vetoing SB 744.
Link said he believes the new bill, which also introduces online gaming to Illinois, addresses all of Quinn’s concerns.
“We feel (SB 1739) answers most of the governor’s requests or desires,” he said, noting Quinn previously hadn’t been as forthcoming with changes that he’d support. “When the goal line keeps moving every time, it’s kind of hard to get to the goal line.”
The IFB’s Kevin Semlow, director of State Legislation, said it will remain neutral because of the belief that most members do not support more gambling. But other ag groups remain hopeful for additional funding. Tom Moore, president of the Illinois Assoc. of Agriculture Fairs, said county fairs overall have been struggling in recent years as state funding has been cut.
“County fairs provide a backdrop for competitions that raise the bar for the development of agricultural products within our state, and are an economic engine in their communities. Our state funding has been slashed heavily,” he told state lawmakers last year.
The earmarks were removed from the new gaming bill primarily to leave open what lawmakers may ultimately want to do with the additional revenue, Link said.
Facing a backlog of bills of about $9 billion, and unfunded pension liabilities approaching $100 billion, Quinn proposed a budget next year that calls for approximately $400 million in education funding alone. Some, or all of the additional gaming revenue, may be earmarked to cover any decrease in education funding.