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Blago, Jones: Fuel budget with gambling

SPRINGFIELD - As Illinoisans settled in for a long holiday weekend, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Friday he was settling for much less than he wants when it comes to the state budget. Now that his plan to raise $7.6 billion by taxing businesses is in tatters, he told reporters that Democrats must stick together in order to keep Republicans from gaining a voice in budget negotiations. For him, that means giving up on his gross-receipts business tax plan and joining forces with Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, who wants to raise money for state programs through a massive expansion of gambling. Blagojevich said he doesn't want to &#8220empower the Republicans” by missing a May 31 deadline to have the budget in place and added that he has asked Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan to act together as Democrats &#8220to keep Republicans from getting into the game.” His comments came as Madigan and Jones sent rank-and-file lawmakers home for the weekend instead of staying in Springfield to hammer out a budget plan. When they return Monday, they will have four days to find common ground within a framework that includes the gambling plan and the elimination of some business tax breaks. Whatever final deal is reached, it won't look anything like the tax hike that Blagojevich proposed earlier this spring when he called for a massive expansion of spending on state-backed health insurance and education. But he said a no-growth budget plan being pushed by House Minority Leader Tom Cross would result in deep cuts to social service programs. Blagojevich said the tentative budget plan outlined by Jones would at least meet some of the promises he made along the campaign trail last year. &#8220Like anything else, if you're willing to compromise you've got to accept some things that you're really not in love with. The idea of more gaming is not something that I like,” the governor said. &#8220But I'm prepared to accept it if it means every citizen in our state can get access to affordable, quality, comprehensive health care.” The gambling expansion plan was sent to the full Senate after an 8-5 committee vote Friday. The legislation would add four new casinos in the Chicago area and allow the state's existing nine casinos to add gaming positions. Horse tracks would get a portion of the increased profits. Electronic poker would be allowed at riverboats, horsetracks and off-track betting parlors. The plan would generate an estimated $2 billion in its first year and then have a recurring stream of revenue worth about $1.4 billion. But even Democratic supporters of the proposal, which is contained in a 219-page amendment to Senate Bill 11, say it may need to be altered in order to pass legislative muster. &#8220There are things we know we're going to change,” said state Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, who is sponsoring the measure. Republicans and anti-gambling advocates expressed concern over the size of the plan. &#8220The magnitude of this gambling expansion is stunning,” said state Sen. Christine Radogno, R-La-Grange. &#8220I don't see the House supporting that,” said Cross, R-Oswego. Cross instead backs a bare-bones budget plan that calls for adding gaming positions at existing casinos in order to bankroll a statewide construction plan. Other state programs would see little change from their current funding levels. &#8220It is important that government lives within its means,” said Cross. Kurt Erickson can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee. net or (217) 789-0865.

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