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Monday, June 08, 2009

The ridiculous state of our state

This pretty much sums up where we're at in Illinois:

A former Illinois first lady downs a dead tarantula during her reality television debut. The state’s junior senator blames the questioners for his deceptive answers under oath. Lawmakers enhance incumbency, label it historic reform and flee Springfield having ducked the tough budget calls to eradicate a $12 billion deficit. Where is Shakespeare, that master of tragedy and comedy, when we need him? (Mike Lawrence: So much promise, so little achieved.)

But, about the money. Why should state legislators get $500 million for their friends' pet projects?

Soon, everyone who renews an Illinois driver’s license could help pay for a baseball museum or a new church roof. Pop open a beer and you may fund improvements at a gated lakefront community. Buy a bottle of iced tea and you’ll help celebrate Irish heritage.
Illinois lawmakers have approved a massive public works program funded by new taxes and fees. Most of the money will go to roads, bridges and schools, but officials set aside $500 million to spend however they please on projects in their home districts.
The projects include new traffic lights, police stations and sewers. Children’s programs, from playgrounds to groups that help kids with disabilities and mental illness, would benefit, too. (Capital plan sets aside $500 milion for legislators' projects.)

The money for the $500 million will come from within the $29 billion set to be aside for the public works bill, which is waiting for the governor's signature. And maybe the projects are necessary and worthy of Illinois tax dollars. And, if so, why should individual members of the General Assembly be the ones to walk up to their pals and gleefully and thankfully hand them a check from the taxpayers? We have got to get away from this member initiative mindset in our government. Really get away from it.

Back to the article. Are all the projects worthy of our tax dollars?

The list also includes projects where the public benefits are less clear.
Planners of a baseball museum in the Chicago suburb of McCook would get $500,000. An Irish-American Heritage Center in Chicago gets four grants totaling $100,000. Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater would get a whopping $5 million.
The Candlewick Lake Association, a gated community near Rockford with nearly 7,000 people enjoying a 220-acre lake and a 9-hole golf course, stands to get $50,000.
The community did not ask for the money, said Candlewick general manager Tracy Carter. Instead, Rep. Ron Wait, R-Belvidere, contacted them. “We certainly will find a good use for it,” Carter said.

There's no accountability:

The legislation does not give such details about the money it hands out. Nor does it say which lawmaker requested each grant.
But officials do say it provides a new level of accountability by listing every project for everyone to see. Similar bills in the past often set up huge pools of money, which leaders of each party in the House and Senate would then dole out to lawmakers’ projects. There was almost no way to track the money.
Listing every project is an important step forward, even without information on which legislator requested the money, said Patti Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
“We insisted that these be line-itemed,” Schuh said. “You ensure the taxpayers get the most bang for their buck and it’s not some pork-barrel projects.”

Unbelievable. Do they think we just fell off the turnip truck?

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal thinks it's some kind of victory for Republicans that Illinois passed a 50% budget (Springfield Tax Revolt). There are no victors here and the Wall Street Journal seems really out of touch with the situation in Illinois.

If I'm starting to sound a little run down, it's because this whole thing is completely exhausting. But, I guess that's what the Illinois legislature wants, for its citizens to be so worn out by the process, they won't care. Well, I do care. Therefore, I am instructing Governor Pat Quinn to veto the entire $500 million pet projects thing. Thank you.

Update the next day: The SJ-R has this editorial in Tuesday's paper: Make state’s earmark process more transparent. It wants Illinois to model its member initiatives the way Congress has begun to do this year:

* Earmarks can equal no more than 1 percent of the discretionary budget. If this requirement were instituted in Illinois (assuming Gov. Pat Quinn eventually gets a full budget to sign), lawmakers would have had roughly half of the $500 million they got.
Some will point to pork-like projects in the bill and argue legislator-initiated projects should be done away with, period. That’s like asking cows not to graze. Placing limits is more realistic.
* State agencies have 20 days to review proposed earmarks, and they will be scrutinized at public hearings.
* Competitive bidding for earmarks aimed at for-profit companies.
* When millions of taxpayer dollars are funneled to private organizations, as has been done in this capital bill, the public needs to be able to see which member requested which project. Such legislation must list the beneficiary and purpose. All of this should be put on the Internet in an easily searchable database.

Maybe, but until such procedures are put in place, I still say no member initiatives for Illinois legislators.

Posted by Marie at June 8, 2009 10:13 PM

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