House votes to lease state lottery

September 10, 2008 5:23:01 PM PDT
Members of the Illinois House have approved a plan to lease the state lottery to the highest bidder.The proposal is designed to privatize the Illinois lottery to help pay for improvements to the state's schools and roads.

The approval came just before 6 p.m. Wednesday. More than $10 million is wanted to build roads, bridges and schools as part of the Illinois capital plan.

The governor floated the plan many weeks ago. But he couldn't get it past house speaker Michael Madigan, with whom Gov. Rod Blagojevich has feuded for most of the past year.

The lottery lease must now be approved by the state senate, which is not in special session. Labor leaders, however, who attended the house session say that senate president Emil Jones will call a senate special session for September 22. the date has yet to be confirmed.

If the senate passes the lottery lease and the governor signs it, then the state of Illinois would go about the business of shopping its lottery, the state lottery, to the highest bidder, in order to presumably hire or find jobs for about half a million people.

The Illinois House was in a full-blown debate Wednesday over the bill to lease the Illinois Lottery for a period of 50 years. This bill was moved out of committee Wednesday afternoon.

This is the latest episode in the long, sometimes bitter, and now desperate struggle to find money to fund a capital bill that would rebuild Illinois' crumbling infrastructure.

As the special session began late Wednesday morning, some of the state's most powerful organized labor leaders were watching.

"It's time for our legislative leaders to come together and pass a capital bill that will benefit the working men and women throughout the state of Illinois," said Dennis Gannon, Chicago Federation of Labor.

The unions, who in past elections had backed most of the majority House Democrats with money and campaign workers, had lost their patience with Madigan. Madigan rejected the governor's senate-approved plan to lease the lottery earlier this year.

Madigan's change of heart comes two weeks after the now-legendary hug at the Democratic convention in Denver and the stepped up union pressure.

"They have been out talking to members trying to sell us in the last couple of days, and the reports that I'm getting back from them I think are grounds for encouragement," said Rep. Barbara Flynn-Currie, (D) Hyde Park.

"I think this is a far better bill than when it was proposed by the governor or by the Senate," said Rep. Lou Lang, (D) Skokie.

It is estimated the lottery lease could generate anywhere between $7 and $12 million that would be used to build roads, bridges and schools.

The unions say the plan would create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

"We've got to look to the future and the future is going to be to put people back to work as quickly as we possibly can," Gannon said.

Speaker Madigan, who has been unavailable for comment, reportedly wanted language in the lottery lease bill to restrict the governor's role in awarding any related contracts.

"The provision of having the controller and the treasurer sign off of any deal helps provide at least you have some sense of fairness and some sense of taking a look at anything the administration may do.," said Rep. David Miller, (D) south suburbs.

But the House bill under consideration did not specify which capital projects the lottery lease money would fund.

"When are you going to pass the jobs bill? When are you going to invest in building schools and hospitals and fixing our roads and our bridges and investing in the public transportation needs of our state?" said Governor Blagojevich.

But Flynn-Currie says the House bill could not be specific about spending because no state has ever leased its lottery.

"We don't know at this moment whether the idea of leasing the lottery will hold water. We probably won't know for six or eight months whether we have a done deal," said Flynn-Currie.

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