Another legislative session has come and gone. In its wake are a few issues that got good news, while others weren't so fortunate. Over the course of a six-day fall veto session that ended Friday, state lawmakers took care of their most pressing problems – and left several others for 2010. This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a look at the winners and losers from the fall veto session and what's next.
Another legislative session has come and gone. In its wake are a few issues that got good news, while others weren't so fortunate.
Over the course of a six-day fall veto session that ended Friday, state lawmakers took care of their most pressing problems – and left several others for 2010.
This week's State Capitol Q&A takes a look at the winners and losers from the fall veto session and what's next.
Q. Who were the winners in this session?
A. College students, transit-riding seniors and reform advocates all won victories of different sorts.
College students who receive MAP grant scholarships were the biggest winners. Their MAP grant program faced a shutout in January because of a hole of more than $200 million in funding, leaving more than 130,000 students without aid.
Fearing a major backlash, lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn came to the rescue by simply authorizing more spending to fill that hole – and figuring out how to pay for it later.
Seniors have been able to ride free on mass transit systems for the last couple of years because of a push by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Lawmakers wanted to overturn that perk because it costs cash-strapped Chicago systems more than $30 million a year. But measures that would end free rides stalled, so those continue for now.
Months of negotiations between reform advocates and legislative leaders produced a campaign finance measure that puts caps on donations, including on how much leaders can give to candidates in primary but not general elections. Republicans criticized the deal as selling out real reform.
Reformers and lawmakers note that what they did come up with, even with shortcomings, is much further than Illinois has gone before on campaign money regulations.
"But it doesn't go far enough. We know that," said George Ranney, co-chair of CHANGE Illinois, an umbrella group of reform advocates that worked on the measure.
Q. Who ended up not getting what they wanted?
A. Video poker operators, cemetery reformers and the state budget picture were all on the losing side.
Lawmakers considered but stalled three measures for video poker, after legalizing the machines earlier this year to help fund a major construction program.
Two measures were voted down in the House. One would have allowed video poker owners to stay open for up to two years if their local government outlaws the machines, and the other would have allowed machines at truck stops, along with bars and restaurants. A resolution calling for a study of state-owned video poker machines was never brought up for a House vote after those other ideas were rejected.
The Quinn administration was supposed to get new power to oversee cemeteries after major problems at a Chicago-area cemetery this summer prompted outrage. Religious groups and local governments that operate cemeteries complained, and other questions forced a delay.
The budget, again, was a casualty – if not an unexpected one.
Quinn announced plans to borrow another $1 billion to keep the state solvent, adding to a big debt load. The college scholarship plan had no direct funding tied to it. Finding any more money to cover the growing spending problems will have to wait.
Q. What's the next step on these and other issues?
A. Nothing is ever truly dead in Springfield. Lawmakers could simply come back next year and approve some of these ideas when they need fewer votes to do that.
Lawmakers aren't due back into town, short of an emergency, until mid-January. And they're only around about a week then before heading home to campaign. The spring session won't really get going until after the Feb. 2 primary election.
But with budget pressure building and no easy solutions, a daunting 2010 election year is in store for state leaders.
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.