Governor Avoids Keno Issue Instead of Gambling, Blagojevich Touts Help for Veterans, Students

By Krol, Eric; Patterson, John | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Governor Avoids Keno Issue Instead of Gambling, Blagojevich Touts Help for Veterans, Students


Krol, Eric, Patterson, John, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Eric Krol and John Patterson Daily Herald Staff Writers

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared to pull the plug on his controversial keno gambling expansion plan Wednesday, a little more than a week after he pitched it to pay for school construction.

"I am concerned about the end results. There are several means (to the end)," said Blagojevich, after delivering his annual State of the State speech, in which he did not mention keno, a lottery- meets-bingo game popular in Missouri and Michigan.

The 40-minute address amounted to an election-year call for peace to voters and critics, with Blagojevich seeking to overcome low public approval ratings and multiple federal probes as he tries for a second term.

Credit was a theme: the once-combative governor shared credit with lawmakers for three years of accomplishments while also calling for a $1,000 tax credit for parents who send their children to state colleges.

Consumers who buy hybrid vehicles would get a $500 sales tax credit. Veterans without health insurance also would get state coverage under a new proposal.

Republicans acknowledged it's tough to oppose helping families pay for college and assisting veterans, but said it all comes at a price.

"We're in for a rude awakening in the next couple of years," said House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego. "Someday, this is going to have to be paid for."

In the speech, Blagojevich did find a target to blast: Republican politicians in Washington, whom he criticized at least 20 times for not raising the minimum wage, cutting college financial aid and helping to send jobs overseas through tax policies.

"That may be acceptable policy in Washington. But it's not in Illinois. They send jobs to India. We brought OfficeMax to Naperville," said Blagojevich, a former three-term congressman.

But the governor, who has acknowledged being interviewed by federal authorities early last year, did not issue any calls for ethics reform. He also did not hold a news conference afterward, at which questions about the ethics issue could have been asked.

The governor's top new proposal is a $1,000 state income tax credit to parents of students who go to Illinois public or private colleges or universities and maintain a B average. It would apply to the first two years, include community colleges; cost an estimated $90 million, and help roughly 150,000 students.

The governor said he would pay for it out of rebounding state revenues.

State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican, accused Blagojevich of an about-face after he cut college funding his first three years, with tuition skyrocketing as a result.

Hopes of a rebounding economy sending more tax dollars to Springfield is also how the governor would pay for a $10 million test program to offer health insurance to low-income veterans who don't have it or live more than 50 miles from a federal VA hospital. While some lawmakers questioned the cost, most supported the concept to plug holes in the federal safety net for veterans.

"There is a large, very active veterans organization in Des Plaines, and I hear from them all the time about the lack of services, be they health care, housing, a myriad of things," said state Rep. …

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