Metro-East News

Lawmakers are going back to work in Springfield. Here’s what they’ll be talking about.

Gov. Rauner opposes recreational marijuana

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said he is against legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.
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Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner said he is against legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.

With the General Assembly returning Tuesday, legislators will face a variety of issues, from school funding and infrastructure needs to whether Illinois will be the next state to legalize marijuana.

And there’s always the issue about whether Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature can agree on a budget.

Last year, the state’s two-year budget impasse ended after the assembly adopted a budget, which included an income tax increase, over Rauner’s veto.

The override came with both Republican and Democratic votes.

“We succeed a bipartisan coalition,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Democrat. “Hopefully that process can repeat itself.”

Rauner is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address Feb. 14, and he has said he plans to present a balanced budget with cuts.

“Nobody wants a repeat of the budget impasse,” said state Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo.

“I didn’t think it was realistic to think that we were going to be able to balance the budget without some type of tax increase, but what I was insisting on, if you were going to have a tax increase, there has to be some type of reforms attached to it,” Schimpf said, referring to last year’s budget debates.

Here are some issues that may be discussed during the next few months, which includes a primary election.

School funding

Schimpf said school funding may be among the first things considered. The governor issued an amendatory veto on Senate Bill 444, which was a follow up to the state’s school funding formula change.

“There was the funding compromise, which I reluctantly supported,” Schimpf said. “There were things that I did not like in there, but I at least thought it was a step in the right direction toward allowing us to achieve funding parity where Chicago and downstate would be under the same formula eventually. And also the education funding compromise kept our schools open.”

Then Senate Bill 444 was passed as additional funding for Chicago area schools, Schimpf said. However, Rauner issued an amendatory veto.

“I anticipate the first order of business is the senate is going to take up Senate Bill 444,” Schimpf said.

Rauner announced Friday a plan to speed up state recognition of non-public schools wanting to participate in a tax-credit program, which was passed as part of the school funding plan adopted in August.

The first-term governor, who is running for re-election, says a streamlined reporting process will allow the newly recognized schools to accept students from low- and middle-income families who want a better fit for their education and receive a tax credit for it.

He was dissatisfied in the process outlined in follow-up legislation that finalized the school-finance overhaul last summer. He issued an amendatory veto seeking the changes he ultimately worked out.

Any action on the legislation would start in the state Senate, Brown said. However a hearing by the House Committee Elementary & Secondary Education Committee is scheduled for Monday.

“We’ll be able to review what’s being proposed,” Brown said.

Brown said there were some suggested tweaks from the State Board of Education.

“The question becomes do you start over, (or) do you override and address new things?” Brown said.

A bill to help Fairmount Park Racetrack

Could legislation that would allow Fairmount Park Racetrack to have a new revenue stream move forward?

The racetrack said its at a tipping point and needs to have a shorter season without a new revenue source. Ultimately some sort of Fairmount fix, would require cooperation from legislators around the state.

“They have consistently been faced with the problem of competitions outside the racing industry. And we’re the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow one of two things: Either allow racetracks, that also have gaming in their state, to have gaming that would allow them to bolster the racing industry, or have some sort of revenue sharing from other parts of the gaming industry,” said state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.

“As we’ve seen proliferation of video poker machines in casino gaming … it’s made Fairmount Racetrack struggle and we know live racing creates many more jobs than any of the other gaming industries.”

Hoffman, who serves as the majority conference chairman in the House, said a vibrant horse racetrack is an economic driver with jobs for trainers, ticket takers, concessions, among other people.

“I’m willing to make sure something is done at Fairmount Racetrack if it’s not done for the rest of the state,” Hoffman said. “That’s kind of difficult because everybody wants their area and their area that they represent to get something. We need to do a huge education campaign to tell people throughout the state that this is something that creates jobs and an economic development for our area. We’re not against helping your area, but at this point we’re at a crisis and we need to do everything we can to help.”

Infrastructure work

Hoffman and Brown also said there might be talk about infrastructure.

Legislators have discussed a need for a capital bill.

“We need to sit down with labor, sit down with the business community who rely on roads and bridges and educational institutions to train their workers and come up with a solution that provides jobs and economic development through an infrastructure program,” Hoffman said.

Brown added the state also has to see what details come from President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plans.

No votes on marijuana legalization?

There has been committee discussion about legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but it may be a while before there’s a vote in the General Assembly, Hoffman said

“I don’t think that’s going to come up for a vote this spring. I voted for the medical use of marijuana and it’s very tightly written here in Illinois,” Hoffman said.

“I think there’s more study that needs to go on, and with regard to the action recently taken by the federal government we’ve got to see what the attorney general’s actions are going to be and the Trump administration’s reaction is going to be to state’s doing this on a state-by-state basis. Until that plays out, what the federal government is going to do, I doubt we’ll do anything here in Illinois.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter