SPRINGFIELD, Ill.— The clock is ticking on Illinois lawmakers to wrap up their spring legislative session, with most big issues before them still unresolved. That means long days and possibly late nights at the state Capitol before their scheduled adjournment on Friday. Here are 10 things to know as the deadline approaches:
1. PENSION STAREDOWN
Senate President John Cullerton says he's hoping to find a compromise to solve the nation's worst state pension crisis after House Speaker Michael Madigan set aside a Senate plan and sent back a measure that's harsher on state employees. A big question is whether either is constitutional. In what looks an awful lot like a stare-down contest, will either Chicago Democrat blink?
1. $35.6 BILLION, MORE OR LESS
For the first time in four years, majority Democrats in the House and Senate worked together to draft a budget, which should smooth the crafting of the all-important state-spending blueprint. Democrats say they've found a way to reduce cuts to education that Gov. Pat Quinn proposed when he presented a $35.6 billion plan in March, but Republicans are expected to howl about Democrats spending new revenues. The plan is likely to be unveiled Monday.
1. GUNS DIVIDE
The geographic divide in Illinois is nowhere more apparent than on guns, where downstate gun-owners and gang-weary city residents see things through entirely different lenses. Madigan has shepherded a House proposal to legalize the public possession of guns, but Quinn, Cullerton and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel say they'll block it because it strips the city's right to its own gun restrictions.
1. GAY MARRIAGE
Supporters of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage have sounded decidedly more optimistic in recent days, expressing confidence the House will approve the historic measure and send it to Quinn for his signature. They were looking for House Black Caucus members and suburban Republicans to deliver the last of 60 votes needed. Will they succeed, and if so, who will be the deciding votes?
1. THIRD TIME'S A CHARM?
Gambling proponents are trying again to give Illinois more casinos, but their success may depend on a totally unrelated issue. Quinn has vetoed two prior bills because of concerns about "mobster" infiltration. Legislators say their third roll includes sufficient ethical protections, but Quinn says he won't sign a gambling deal until lawmakers solve the pension problem - something they haven't been able to do after years of trying.
1. AGREEMENT BUT NO VOTE
The measure appeared set to sweep through the Legislature - a bill to bring thousands of jobs to southern Illinois, based on a rare agreement between industry and environmentalists, with dozens of sponsors on both sides of the aisle. But a vote on regulating an oil and gas extraction process known as "fracking" keeps getting put off, raising speculation that it too has become embroiled in classic, end-of-session horse trading.
1. 'FREE LUNCH'
By now, everyone knows what Madigan means by "free lunch." He uses the term to describe state contributions to pensions for teachers in suburban and downstate school districts, and he wants the practice to end. Republicans have opposed it because it could lead to local tax increases or budget cuts, but the House speaker seems particularly determined.
1. MEDICINAL POT
With all else seemingly backed up, one high-profile piece of legislation already approved is a bill to allow people with some ailments and diseases to use marijuana for medical purposes. Quinn hasn't said yet whether he will sign it, but he's a big supporter of veterans and their causes and has mentioned more than once that vets tell him they've been helped by the drug.
The governor says he was put on earth to solve the state's pension crisis, and he needs to answer questions about his leadership as the 2014 election season heats up. The session could help determine if he faces a primary challenge from fellow Democrats, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and Republicans already are promising to make the state's disastrous finances the focal point of the campaign.
If legislators don't finish by Friday, they can vote to suspend the deadline and continue meeting. But two other deadlines loom: June 9 - when a federal appeals court says Illinois must no longer be the nation's last state to ban the concealed-carry of guns, and July 1 - when the new fiscal year begins and Illinois needs a budget.