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* A couple of anti-gambling House members talked to the Champaign News-Gazette about why they voted for the gaming expansion bill

“By no means am I a proponent of expanded gambling, but you take a look at this bill and the benefits to agriculture I think outweigh any detriments in the bill,” said Brown, a freshman lawmaker. “When agriculture is the number one industry in our state I think it’s got to be a priority, not only in this bill but in several other bills.”

Both Barickman and Brown, as well as Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said they would vote for an override if Quinn vetoed the bill. Until the recent past, Jakobsson had opposed any gambling expansion.

“Everyone knows we’re in a crisis as far as our revenue, and I believe that by putting people to work and giving them jobs, they’ll need fewer of our services. As people are working that will eventually balance things out.

“You know we talk about the social ills of gaming but look at the social ills of unemployment.”

* Working together despite differences of opinion and preconceived notions is what my Sun-Times column is about this week

“Hey, Rich, is there any good news?”

I must hear that question a half- dozen times a day at the Illinois Statehouse. So, I’ve developed a standard retort.

“Man, there’s never any good news in this building.”

Despite struggling the past year or so to overcome decades of misrule and mismanagement, Illinois has not yet been able to right itself. Unemployment is falling, but it’s still way too high.

The state government’s credit rating has been bruised and battered for years and is now in danger of falling off a cliff.

Despite a huge income tax increase, the state is still carrying billions of dollars in unpaid, overdue bills. The tax increase was eaten up almost entirely by gigantic annual pension payments, which the state made worse by skipping or skimping on for years.

Pensions and Medicaid spending is are gobbling up almost 40 percent of the state’s budget. And if nothing is done right now, in just a few short years the mountain of overdue Medicaid bills alone will be higher than what the state spends on its annual budget.

In other words, even with the income tax increase, there’s no money left to dig out from under that pile of overdue bills. Not to mention that “natural spending growth” (without adding a single new program) is eating up every dollar and more of natural revenue growth. Even without those unpaid bills, the state simply can’t afford to keep paying for everything it already does.

A corporation or individual in this sort of trouble would probably just declare bankruptcy. But states can’t declare bankruptcy.

Instead, the state has to look for politically popular revenues and make politically unpopular budget cuts.

The new revenues have to be popular because yet another unpopular tax increase this close to the election would surely be the final kiss of political death.

Cigarette tax increases are consistently far and away the most popular revenue stream out there. So, that’s part of the plan to help patch the gaping Medicaid budget hole, which is a whopping $2.7 billion.

People always say they want budget cuts, but they never like the actual cuts. Cutting Medicaid programs and kicking a hundred thousand people off the system won’t be popular at all.

But the ugly, harsh political reality is that a large number of Medicaid recipients live in Cook County, where the Democratic primary is the real election. And that election was this past March.

So, politically, those cuts are easier to make.

But just because they’re politically easier, that doesn’t mean legislators who represents lots of poor people will be voting for those cuts. They won’t. I don’t blame them. All politics is local. I get it.

What cannot be allowed to happen, however, is one group of legislators dictating to everyone else how things should go.

Legislative Black Caucus members announced Wednesday that they wouldn’t be voting for the Medicaid cuts, but they also said they wouldn’t oppose the cigarette tax increase. Doing so would’ve created big problems because without that tax increase the cuts would have to be even worse.

Democrats, mostly, will be voting for the cigarette tax increase. Republicans, mostly, are voting for the cuts, despite the tax increase.

And that’s how it should be, as long as it gets done. Individuals can and should make their point about an individual issue without obstructing the entire process.

So, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is good Statehouse news.

Except that even the good news is bad. Snatching health care away from poor people is not exactly something to be proud of.

That column was due before the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved Medicaid cuts. Few expected that many Democrats to be for the bill, including me. But it’s still a good sign that spines are stiffening in Springfield.

posted by Rich Miller
Friday, May 25, 12 @ 9:33 am


  1. “You know we talk about the social ills of gaming but look at the social ills of unemployment.” Gets my vote for quote of the year. Bravo!

    Comment by SAP Friday, May 25, 12 @ 9:57 am

  2. To paraphrase Schnorf, there are no good or easy answers right now. Probably the worst sin is obstructing those who are willing to make the tough votes to stop the bleeding.

    Comment by wordslinger Friday, May 25, 12 @ 10:29 am

  3. === Except that even the good news is bad. ===

    I hate the fact this so accurate and true right now. Stark reality.

    I fear that even the current moves being made in Springfield may prove insufficient to get us back on solid footing. Round 2 next year? Hope not.

    Comment by Freeman Friday, May 25, 12 @ 10:51 am

  4. Adam Brown voted for it because Bill Mitchell told him to.

    Comment by OurMagician Friday, May 25, 12 @ 11:54 am

  5. Whenever I hear the phrase that politicians are “working together”, I am pretty confident that they are working together against the taxpayers.

    Comment by Backwards Friday, May 25, 12 @ 12:47 pm

  6. How many people will die because they will lose their access to medical care?

    Comment by reformer Friday, May 25, 12 @ 5:32 pm

  7. Why is it that they don’t tax alcohol. Drinking can kill instantly. It’s also cost money for people to get help AA meeting’s. Taxes always on the smoker’s isn’t always fair. Drinking leads to more problems the politicians should look into taxing alcohol there is lot of money out there.

    Comment by Lucky Saturday, May 26, 12 @ 9:35 am

  8. –Why is it that they don’t tax alcohol.–

    Who doesn’t tax alcohol?

    Comment by wordslinger Saturday, May 26, 12 @ 10:19 am

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