This was written by former Representative Bill Black
When you’re in a hole, stop digging.
In the Land of Lincoln, those words ring all too true. We’re up to our necks in a deepening financial crisis and staggering unemployment rates. But a very real solution exists that enables the state to generate revenue and create jobs — all at no expense to taxpayers.
The Illinois Revenue & Jobs Alliance is united behind a solution that calls for increased gaming outlined in Senate Bill 1849 that would result in sorely needed dollars for education, capital projects, debt relief and safety-net programs. We are a growing statewide consortium of labor and business organizations, municipalities like Rockford and Danville, and representatives from industry stakeholders like the Illinois Association of Agricultural Affairs and the Illinois Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association.
Members of the IRJA including the Illinois AFL-CIO, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce convened earlier this week to voice their support for SB 1849. Their message to Springfield leaders was simple: The time for revenue growth and job creation is now, and SB 1849 is a solution that will kick-start economic improvements.
The passage of SB 1849 would bring five new casinos to the state of Illinois (including one in the city of Chicago), create more gaming positions at existing venues around the state, and add slot machines at horse racing tracks. Unlike other suggested revenue options, this one doesn’t come with strings attached to the wallets of Illinois residents who are fed up with paying more and getting less.
In fact, SB 1849 would generate nearly $200 million annually in new revenue for the state and create more than 20,500 jobs for our residents, including 9,800 full-time jobs and 4,500 construction-related jobs. By adding slot machines at Illinois horse tracks, SB 1849 would create more than 2,700 jobs at the racing venues, on top of more than 1,000 full-time construction-related jobs needed to update the facilities as they exist today. It’s estimated that the creation of these jobs would generate more than $1.5 billion in personal income.
Although Illinois must take action to reform its ballooning pension system and bankrupt Medicaid program, it must also find new ways to generate revenue. Independent polling shows that 74 percent of Illinoisans prefer that legislative leaders find ways to generate new revenue rather than cut programs or raise taxes. In fact, the vast majority of Illinois residents support a gaming solution to boost the state’s economy.
In addition to creating new economies throughout the state, SB 1849 would also bolster existing ones like those in the central and southern parts of Illinois that rely heavily on the agricultural industry and account for the nearly 37,000 agribusiness jobs related to the horse racing industry alone.
Without the enactment of SB 1849, other states will continue to capitalize on gaming revenue from Illinois residents, who will spend an estimated $1.5 billion at gaming sites in Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa and Missouri by 2016. For years, our neighbors have used Illinois dollars to grow and expand their businesses, build roads and schools, and provide essential services to their residents. Studies show Illinois could recapture close to half of those dollars each from out-of-state casinos if SB 1849 takes effect.
Given the dire state of Illinois’ finances and our overwhelming unemployment rate, it’s time Illinois took that first step on the road to a more certain economic future and finally put away the shovel.
Bill Black is chairman of the Illinois Revenue & Jobs Alliance. He represented Danville in the Illinois House from 1986 to 2011.