6/7/2007 9:35:00 AM Guest column Overtime session: Casinos may play part in solution
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
It was indeed an interesting week in Springfield leading up to the May 31 budget deadline. A budget did not pass both the House and Senate before the deadline, so it seems that any budget that is passed will now take a super-majority rather than a simple majority. That means the Democrats will now have to include Republicans in the budget process. If they had passed a budget before May 31 a simple majority would have sufficed.
There is one way that the budget that was passed by the House Democrats could become the final FY 2008 budget. Senate Bill 1544, which did pass out of the House before the deadline, included language to eliminate a few of what the Democrats describe as "corporate tax loopholes." To me, these "loopholes" look more like business and job incentives. Anyway, the bill did pass before the deadline and could become the budget with just the simple majority of Democrats in the House voting for it. That is because the Senate already has the super-majority of Democrats needed to pass the bill in after the May 31 deadline. The Senate could take the bill as is and apply enough votes to meet the super-majority status. But any changes to the bill would mean that it must come back to the House for a final vote and that would take a super-majority vote, meaning the Republicans are in on budget negotiations.
The reason SB 1544 was not considered immediately in the Senate is that a downstate lawmaker filed a motion to "reconsider" the House vote on SB 1544. The reason for the "reconsideration motion" was that the electric-rate issue has not yet been resolved. Many downstate lawmakers (me included) have been demanding action on the electric-rate crisis for months without any success.
It appears that we finally have the attention of the General Assembly's leaders on the rate crisis. There was some movement last week toward a fair compromise on this issue, although I am not sure exactly what the final agreement will be. However, it will include a significant reduction in the rate increases experienced by customers at the first of this year. We can also expect changes in the electric procurement laws with emphasis on developing competition in the electric market. This week is critical to the eventual compromise. I can promise you I am working hard on this issue and will join other downstate lawmakers in demanding a fair compromise and end to these outrageous rates. Thanks to the hundreds of you who have called, written or e-mailed me on this issue. It is by far the issue I hear about the most, and rightfully so.
No one really knows how long the overtime session will last. The Senate passed a budget that includes a huge increase in gaming. The measure would call for four more casinos, including a land-based casino in Chicago. There is some support for the Chicago casino, but once you add a casino, everybody wants one. A group from Danville visited Springfield last week to pitch for a riverboat casino to be located there. It appears House Speaker Michael Madigan does support some type of gaming expansion, and the Senate version of the budget may actually be considered in the House. But changes are likely to be made in the House to that attempt at a budget. Plus, House Republicans would have to vote for it since it now takes a super-majority to pass. I am interested to hear from voters in the 109th District about whether you believe gaming should be considered as part of the budget solution.
Significant commitments were made last week by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and Director Doug Scott regarding NPDES permits for existing septic systems in rural Illinois. It certainly looks as if the IEPA will now apply the minimum requirements of the federal EPA to Illinois septic system owners. Existing systems will likely be "grandfathered" in some fashion as long as they are not violating pollution laws. There will be no fees or additional inspections or maintenance requirements imposed on these homeowners. The IEPA may require permits upon ownership transfer, though. The minimal federal rules apparently would require that type of permit system upon property transfers.
This week, the House will also act on SB 17. The bill tries to deal with the wooded land assessment increases imposed by the Illinois Department of Revenue a few years back. The new Department of Revenue rules would mean huge increases in the assessed value of wooded land in Illinois. The rule already prompted many rural residents to level important timber ground to avoid the huge tax increases. SB 17 brings sanity to the issue as it allows assessments to remain relatively low if the wooded land is registered in a program through the Department of Natural Resources. Since the DNR does not have enough people to handle the implementation of planned programs, the increases can be avoided by simply registering with DNR to have a plan written and approved. You can read the entire bill and get more details at www.ilga.gov. If you own wooded land, you will want to read the entire bill to see how the provisions apply specifically to your property.
Many of you might have read last week about a near-fistfight that occurred in the governor's office when the he apparently applied a little too much pressure on a rural senator in an effort to get the 30th vote on a budget deal which would have expanded the state Medicaid program into a universal health-care system in Illinois. The senator refused to vote for the spending increase and the governor reportedly threatened to run someone against him in the next election as well as making various other threats. People have asked me what I think of all of that. The only thing I can say is that it is embarrassing to the entire General Assembly to see this type of ineptness. Threats and counter-threats do nothing to solve problems. It strikes me that both the governor and the senator were alone in a room trying to cut a deal regarding taxpayers' money without public debate, and that should bother us all.
As important issues arise during the overtime session, I will keep you as up to date as possible. Let me know what you are thinking, E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us at either (618) 563-4128 or (217) 558-1040. You can also keep up with important issues at my Web site (now with audio clips) www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatves.