Illinois Week in Review: Betting on iGaming, controversy over Nation of Islam
By Stephanie Fryer and Anthony Brino | Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois lawmakers must craft next year’s budget and fix huge deficits by May 31, but the closest they came to addressing those problems was a proposal to tax online gambling. Other issues from a proposed minimum wage increases to the Nation of Islam were getting everyone’s attention, as well.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, wants legislators to approve his plan to tax and regulate Internet gambling in Illinois before Congress keeps the state’s hands off the industry.
Under Cullerton’s proposal, a new Division of Internet Gaming within the Illinois Lottery, would establish an Internet gaming platform, accept wages and pay out winnings, work with other states to offer intrastate gaming and verify that users are legally allowed to gamble.
“We estimate that the potential new revenues to the state are in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cullerton said in a letter to the state’s top lawmakers this week, noting that Illinoisans already make Internet bets, some of them considered illegal.
The proposal was tacked onto House Bill 4148, and Cullerton said approving it now is the only way the Illinois government can capture millions of dollars in revenue. Congress is considering an Internet gambling bill that would bar states from regulating iGaming unless they have those laws on the books.
“Time is of the essence,” Cullerton said.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has yet to weigh in on iGaming. He said earlier this month that finding a solution to the state’s budget and pension problems is capturing most of his time and even cutting into his sleep.
A Senate committee Wednesday approved a bill that would raise Illinois’ minimum wage to more than $10 an hour and make it one of the highest in the nation.
The mostly Democratic proponents of Senate Bill 1565, which heads to the Senate for a vote, say a minimum-wage hike would help low-income workers and percolate out into the larger economy.
Republicans opposed the measure, which passed the Senate Executive Committee by a vote of 9-5.
Business owners who testified said it could stifle any growth they’ve seen in this still somewhat stagnant economy, and it’d make it too risky to employ teenagers, who often earn minimum wage in part-time jobs.
Doug Knight, owner of Knight’s Action Park, a water and recreation park near here, hires about 200 teenagers and young adults to work at his business. He said he was forced to scale back his operating hours after the last minimum wage hike in 2010 because he could not stay profitable.
“If my expenses go up, I have to raise my prices,” Knight said.
Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25. The measure would increase it by 50 cents a year until it matches the inflation-adjusted equivalent of minimum wage in 1968, $1.60 per hour, which would be $10.58 today.
Money meant for maintaining state highways soon could be paying for some of the Illinois Department of Transportation’s day-to-day expenses.
Quinn’s budget proposal would divert almost $250 million from the state’s road fund — fueled by the state's motor fuel tax and vehicle license fees — to pay IDOT’s health-care, workers’ compensation, and building rent and maintenance costs, according to the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, which advocates for transportation infrastructure upgrades.
That means less money would go to maintaining the state’s roads, David Kennedy, the coalition's statehouse committee chairman, said.
“Generally people pay gas taxes and license plate fees, because they know the money is going towards the roads,” Kennedy said.
Some 2,500 miles of roads in the state are deemed unacceptable according to IDOT standards. That’s about 15 percent of all state-maintained roads. That number could double by 2018 if nothing is done, bringing the total number of miles of unacceptable state roads to more than 5,000.
State statute says road fund money must pay for transportation-related expenses.
But the diversion of road fund money allows IDOT to make up for its shrinking operating budget. Quinn's proposed budget sets aside $19.2 million for IDOT's day-to-day operations, a decrease from its current operating budget of $21.8 million.
As lawmakers undertake balancing the state budget, a proposal in the Illinois House could cut education funding by at least $258 million.
During the past three years, school districts statewide have lost $650 million in funding.
Chico said the House’s plan could lead to cuts in school programs, staffing and the length of a school day. Raising taxes would be another possibility.
“What you don’t do today with a teacher in a classroom to help a child succeed will pan out over time,” Chico said. “You’ll have people who are less prepared, have less of a skill level and will have a harder time getting a job, sustaining their families, paying taxes and keeping their communities strong.”
The proposal relies on how successful lawmakers are in achieving the need $2.7 billion in Medicaid cuts. This means the reduction in education could be even higher— as much as $500 million or $750 million.
Quinn’s budget proposal spared cuts to education and keeps funding the same as last year.
Chico said the House proposal caught local school officials off guard.
Under the revised measure, strip clubs that sell or allow alcohol would have to charge a $3 admission fee or opt to pay a flat fee based on the club’s tax revenue.
The previous version gave club owners the single option of paying a $5 visitor’s fee.
The potential tax is estimated to bring in $1 million, which would help fund rape crisis centers and sexual assault assistance programs.
“Sexually orientated businesses contribute to objectifying and exploiting women,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who supports the tax.
“The research has shown that a combination of live nude dancing and alcohol is a particularly dangerous one for areas in which these clubs are."
Senate Bill 3348 heads to the Senate floor.
Illinois senators rejected the appointment of a co-founder of an organization dedicated to a former Nation of Islam leader to the state’s Human Rights Commission.
Elijah Muhammad was a leader of black Muslims, and the coalition runs a website about his beliefs and involvement with the Nation of Islam. Some of his beliefs include prohibiting interracial marriage and supporting separate education for men and women.
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