SPRINGFIELD -- State Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, voted against a sweeping gambling expansion plan this week because she said it funnels money to pet projects and special interest groups, even though she supports putting a casino in her home base of Lake County.
The gambling expansion plan, which was approved by the Illinois Senate Wednesday, would allow five new casinos in Illinois and slot machines to be installed at Arlington International Racecourse.
If it eventually becomes law, the legislation is estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the cash-strapped state education system, but Bush pointed out that millions have been earmarked for other things, too.
"Frankly, we told the people of Illinois that this gaming bill was going to bring income in for education," Bush said. "What we've done is taken about $65 million from revenues and given it to different special interests to get them to vote for the bill."
State Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat who wrote the bill, fired back, saying all of the money not going to schools would be funding projects related to education.
Gambling plans are among the most complicated in Springfield. Winning approval often means including provisions to lure lawmakers to vote for it, whether that's by adding a casino in the area they represent or by directing money toward interests they care about. Without such incentives, gambling plans can sputter and die.
One Bush noted was $6.5 million designated for the Latino Community Economic Development Fund, a new organization whose purpose, as defined by the legislation, is to "maintain and develop the economy of Latinos and to provide opportunities for this community, which will enhance and expand the quality of their lives."
"I'm not opposing that," Bush said. "I just don't think the revenues from gaming should be paying for that."
Link said the Latino Community Economic Development Fund is related to education.
"You're trying to help a community develop better," Link said. "How that's going to be used is that it could be used for schools, it could be used for all types of different things in the Latino community to help them be economically stronger."
Bush conceded that had her vote been needed for the legislation to succeed this week, she would have probably voted for it. It was approved with two votes to spare and now goes to the Illinois House.
Link has been able to pass similar gaming expansion bills the last two years, but neither were signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn. Should Quinn eventually veto this measure, Link would need more votes to try to overturn the veto.
Bush said she would consider voting for the measure in that case, provided more money went directly to education and not special programs.