>By Emily Miller

Emily is the BGA’s Policy and Government Affairs Coordinator. Contact her at emiller@bettergov.org.

The Illinois General Assembly reconvenes every fall for a two-week “veto session.”

Technically, state lawmakers are supposed to consider bills the Governor has rejected, but it’s not unusual for other initiatives to surface and be voted upon during this legislative get-together.

So what will lawmakers be focusing on? Here’s what’s likely to be considered:

Gaming expansion

One high-profile issue legislators will address is statewide gambling expansion, a measure the General Assembly approved in the closing days of the last regular session.

Although Governor Quinn never received the actual bill, he signaled he would veto it should it arrive on his desk. As an alternative to that proposed veto, Quinn recently suggested ways the gambling expansion bill could be amended to maximize revenue and increase regulation in what he dubbed a “Framework for Gaming in Illinois.”

The BGA pressed the governor not to approve any gambling expansion bill without more public discussion and community input. The BGA is also concerned the state does not fully understand the economic impact of gaming expansion and is relying on outdated or faulty revenue projections.

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton, who held back the original gaming bill from Quinn, told the BGA that passing a compromise bill that works for both the gaming industry and the Governor is among Cullerton’s top veto session priorities.

President Cullerton intends to prove Quinn’s “framework” is not a workable proposal by giving lawmakers the chance to vote on a bill that closely mirrors Quinn’s proposal. Cullerton’s hope is that the failure of the bill will bring Quinn to the negotiating table.

However, the Governor has repeatedly said he is not interested in hammering out such a compromise—and strongly believes his “framework” is the smartest and best plan for Illinois, and anything less is unacceptable.

Insiders doubt a compromise bill can pass, especially one that does not include so-called “racinos,” or casinos at racetracks—a piece of the original legislation the Governor opposes.

Removing pieces of a bill that was carefully calibrated to satisfy all the specialized interests found in the gaming industry would almost certainly lead to the bill’s demise.

ComEd and Ameren’s “smart grid”

The wheels have already started turning to override Governor Quinn’s high-profile veto of the so-called ComEd “smart grid” bill.

Under the legislation, ComEd and Ameren avoid independent regulation and lock in rate hikes over the next decade to pay for a system upgrade that, they say, will make Illinois energy delivery more reliable and competitive.

Unlikely proponents include environmental groups, who signed on in support of the measure in exchange for the inclusion of renewable energy and improved efficiency standards. The bill’s opponents, including the AARP, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Simon, argue the legislation allows ComEd and Ameren to bypass state regulation, leaving consumers vulnerable.

A so-called “trailer bill,” touted by proponents as a fix to many of the Governor’s concerns regarding consumer protection, was pushed by the industry and passed out of the Senate on Tuesday.

Expect ComEd and Ameren to keep pushing to get both the trailer bill and the veto override through the Senate this week, so they can focus on getting the measure through the House during the second week of veto session.

A BGA investigation found that in the months leading up to the Illinois General Assembly’s approval of the controversial energy bill, utility giants ComEd and Ameren, and their executives and affiliates, donated more than $1.3 million to campaign funds benefiting state lawmakers.

Tax incentives for Illinois futures industry

A spokesman for Senate President John Cullerton said Monday that lowering the state’s corporate income tax rate for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) to keep their business in Illinois is a top priority for the veto session.

A spokeswoman for Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno characterized the measure as part of a larger jobs initiative—one that includes other incentives to keep companies like Sears in Illinois. She does, however, have reservations about speeding the measure through the General Assembly before its full impact is known.

But Crain’s Chicago Business political columnist Greg Hinz reports that the deal that gives the exchanges a 50 percent reduction in their tax rate would reduce state revenue by $100 million a year. As Crain’s points out, the CME, one of the slated recipients of this corporate tax break, saw more than $900 million in profits last year alone.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie questioned whether the bill was even necessary, according to Crain’s.

But Chicago’s Mayor Emanuel strongly supports the incentive. If Senate President Cullerton can sweeten the deal enough for Senate Republicans to support the measure, Mayor Emanuel may be able to use his influence with Chicago-area lawmakers to push the measure out of the House.

Abolishing Legislative Scholarships

Though the legislative scholarships program—which allows lawmakers to hand out scholarships for state schools to anyone in their district—has been under a microscope in recent months following reports of misuse by some lawmakers, it is unlikely this program will be abolished during veto session.

Governor Quinn attempted to abolish the program by adding language to a bill he vetoed—a move House Speaker Madigan deemed an unconstitutional overreach of the executive office. Attempts by Senate Republican Leader Radogno to pass a bill abolishing the program have been quashed by Senate President Cullerton.

The Governor’s staff says the issue is a top priority for him this veto session. But if neither Speaker Madigan nor President Cullerton is interested in moving the bill, it will go nowhere.

In August, a BGA/Chicago Sun-Times investigation revealed how State Rep. Dan Burke’s ex-secretary’s daughter received a legislative scholarship, despite questions regarding her residency in his district. The FBI is looking into the grant.

Facility Closures

This summer, Governor Quinn announced that a state budget shortfall of $376 million lead to his decision to close mental health and prison facilities around the state.

He has blamed the cuts on lawmakers who failed to give him a budget sufficient to pay for a whole year of expenses, and has encouraged lawmakers to fill in the budget gap during veto session to prevent the closures.

Since his announcement, the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has been trying to shore up enough votes for appropriations to prevent closure of the facilities.

It’s not out of the question for the General Assembly to come up with the cash to fully fund the facilities for the rest of the year, which would bring the closure proceedings to a halt.

Illinois’ Unpaid Debt and Public Pension Reform—the Elephants in the Room

Two of the biggest problems facing Illinois are its backlog of unpaid bills and the need to reform public pensions. But most don’t expect either of these issues to move this fall in Springfield.

None of the legislative leaders we spoke to cited eliminating the backlog of debt as a priority for veto session. It’s not likely that any plan will emerge in the coming weeks to address the issue.

Similarly, it’s not likely that major pension reform—one of the most pressing and divisive political issues facing lawmakers—will move at all.

While House Republican Leader Tom Cross has introduced measures that would eliminate some pension loopholes, few lawmakers expect any large-scale pension reform bill to get a vote in the veto session.

Sooner or later, Illinois legislative leaders will have to address both of these issues, but it’s not likely they will do so this fall.