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Tax dollars at work? Spending blasted as ‘wasteful’

Jacksonville Journal-Courier

Monday, June 19, 2017  |  Article  |  Dan McCaleb & Cole Lauterbach

Budget--State (8) , Governor (44) Brady, Bill--State Senate, 44 , McSweeney, David--State House, 52

A compromise budget plan introduced by Illinois Republicans earlier last week includes a spending bill that funds more than $169 million in capital projects in lawmakers’ home districts across the state, an Illinois News Network review revealed.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, called the appropriations “earmarks” and “wasteful.”

“I was shocked to see Senator Bill Brady’s recently filed SB 2216, which is described as ‘FY 18 Member Initiatives’,” McSweeney said. “Special earmarks lead to wasteful spending and potentially corruption. I strongly oppose special insider earmarks.”

Brady, R-Bloomington, could not be reached for comment on Saturday. His bill is 458 pages long and it lists appropriations for hundreds of capital projects in cities and villages throughout Illinois. The money for the capital projects would come from special state funds not related to the general operating budget, such as the Capital Development Fund, the School 12 Construction Fund and various transportation funds.

It’s unclear how many of the projects contained in the spending bill are new, and how many are older projects for which re-appropriations are needed. McSweeney said it doesn’t matter. Given Illinois’ fiscal condition, the state shouldn’t be spending money on pork projects, he said.

Illinois has been without an approved budget for two years. Despite that, the state has been been spending billions of dollars more than it’s bringing in because of court-ordered spending. Illinois has a backlog of bills in excess of $14 billion and unfunded pension liabilities of more than $130 billion.

Republican lawmakers from the House and the Senate introduced what they called a compromise budget plan on Wednesday that includes more than $5 billion in tax increases to help fund a $36 billion budget. The state is expected to bring in only about $31 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ends June 30.

McSweeney said Brady’s capital spending bill “appears to be a part of a strategy to pass a massive tax increase.” He called on the Legislative Audit Commission to “do a full review and investigation of every earmark in the bill. Every member who has requested an earmark in the bill should be identified and required to testify at a public hearing.”

The lawmaker questioned several specific items in the bill, saying, “I can’t wait to hear the explanation” for the following:

  • $19,700 to the City of Morrison for renovations to the Farmers’ Market Facility;
  • $25,000 to Elk Grove Township for street sign improvements;
  • $31,923 to the Preservation and Conservation Association of Champaign for renovations to the Harwood Solon House;
  • $65,000 to the Institute for Puerto Rican Arts & Culture for construction of a “world class museum and Fine Arts Center;”
  • $18,750 to the Village of Royal Lakes for “costs associated with capital improvements to Royal Lakes Community Center and gym.”
  • $245,000 to St. Charles for new construction or infrastructure improvements.

INN’s review of the proposal found hundreds of other projects in the bill. Among them:

  • $157,045 for infrastructure improvements at the Sparta World Shooting Complex in Sparta.
  • $225,000 in the form of a grant to Elk Grove Village for repairs to the Greenleaf Lift Station.
  • $450,000 in the form of a grant to the Village of Arlington Heights for the modification and installation of traffic signals.
  • $250,000 for a grant to the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum to expand the facility.
  • $225,000 for a grant to the City of Danville to renovate its fire fighting training tower.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has called lawmakers back to a special session that is scheduled to begin on Wednesday. In announcing the overtime session, he said he supported the Republicans’ compromise plan and would sign off on it if it’s approved.

Illinois News Network has reached out to the governor’s office seeking comment.

Brady’s appropriations bill is awaiting a committee vote in the Senate.