SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday tiptoed around his intentions for legislation now headed unexpectedly his way that would authorize a Chicago casino and potentially slot machines at the city airports, refusing to say if he'd outright veto it.
In one of the last acts of the now-finished lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) quietly lifted a parliamentary obstacle to a casino-expansion package that passed in 2011 but that never was sent to the governor amid fears he'd kill it.
The until-now dormant measure would grant Mayor Rahm Emanuel a city casino, permit casinos in the south suburbs, Park City, Rockford and Danville, allow slot machines at racetracks and could open Midway and O'Hare airports to those slot machines if the city wants that.
In the days after the May 2011 passage of the package, Quinn belittled the package as "top heavy" and "excessive," and the state Gaming Board chairman he appointed derided it as a "pile of garbage." Last year, Quinn rewrote and killed another gambling expansion package.
But on Wednesday, the strident tone the governor once had toward the measure was nowhere to be found as he avoided repeated questions about his intentions with the bill.
"Today's the day for the Senate and House. The members are sworn in. It's a day of ceremony and family and democracy," Quinn said after presiding over the swearing-in ceremony in the Senate at the state Capitol.
"I think it's important to kind of give the House and Senate their day. There will be plenty of time for us to work on bills," he said.
Quinn was asked if he still held the same hawkish views against the package.
"I've already opined on that in the past, but today is really a day for the new members and re-elected members to come together in bipartisan opportunity to celebrate the fact we have a democracy and we're always going to keep one," the governor said.
Pressed on why then he wouldn't just say he'd veto it, the governor continued to weave.
"There's plenty of time for that. But today, I think it's to honor the election of new members and re-elected members of the House and Senate. I'm going to do that. I think that's a good way for all of us to celebrate the fact the election is over, and now is the time for bipartisan work on important issues like pension reform," Quinn said.
By releasing the hold, Cullerton now puts Quinn in a position where he could, should he choose to, use the legislation as a bargaining chip in his stalled pursuit of cuts to state pension benefits.
The Senate president has been an active supporter of gambling expansion, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed hard for a city casino.
The state Constitution gives the Legislature 30 calendar days to send the bill to Quinn and 60 calendar days for him to act on it - deep into the heart of the spring legislative session when presumably finding a way to solve the state's $95 billion pension crisis will remain on the frontburner after lawmakers whiffed at efforts to pass a pension bill this week.
Until the end of the lame-duck legislative session Tuesday, Cullerton had pressed for passage of a pension-cut package he helped craft that would have affected current and retired state workers and members of the General Assembly in only two of the state's five retirement systems.
The governor wasn't on the same page with Cullerton on that pension plan, saying Tuesday it wasn't "comprehensive" enough and that changes need to be made on four of the five pension funds. Emanuel didn't help muster votes for a state pension plan Quinn liked this week in the House.