As the summer heat sets in, my thoughts drift to baseball. They drift back 13 years, to 1988 when the Illinois legislature adopted a last-minute plan to build a new Comiskey Park for the Chicago White Sox. That prevented the Sox from moving to Florida.
So what should we make of Carlyle Democratic Rep. Kurt Granberg’s suggestion that Illinois consider financing a new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals? Preposterous and improbable, you think? Maybe. The Cardinals probably don’t want to relocate to Illinois, and it’s questionable whether Illinois would consider helping them. But even though the team, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Gov. Bob Holden announced a tentative deal June 19, the Missouri legislature had adjourned.
As a sports fan and policy analyst, I have no opinion on whether Illinois should finance stadiums anywhere, even if the Missouri deal goes bust. What I do know as an observer is that in Illinois politics, like baseball, anything is possible.
It’s worth recalling what happened in 1988. On the afternoon of the last day of the session, nobody thought Sox proponents could muster enough votes for a new stadium. But as midnight approached, first the Senate and then the House narrowly approved a complex $150 million package for a new Comiskey Park. The money would come mostly from the statewide hotel tax and from annual contributions from the state and the city of Chicago.
The vote might not have been legal, but nobody seemed to care. Many said the Sox bailout bill passed at 12:03 a.m. July 1 — legally three minutes too late. But the legislature’s official clock said it was 11:59 p.m., June 30. And so it was. The new stadium opened in 1991.
Now, recall how the most recent Illinois session ended. For a few hours, all capital projects were off the table. But lots of capital funding reappeared. So did an $800 million McCormick expansion plan. History should teach us never to be surprised by what lawmakers do in the final days, no matter what’s said publicly.
Forgive me if I sound like Captain Obvious, but as I look ahead to this fall, I’m anxious for answers to the following questions:
- Will George Ryan run again?
- Will the final compromise be a new O’Hare runway and a new or expanded airport somewhere else?
- Which party will the new legislative districts favor? Just as important: When will we know?
- Are the Republicans trying to copy in 2002 the Democrats’ usually inept way of nominating their gubernatorial candidate?
As others plot answers behind the scenes, enjoy the rest of the summer.
Illinois Issues, July/August 2001