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Massive Public Works Bill Could Give Lawmakers $500 Million for Pet Projects

By Camela Furry in News on Jun 8, 2009 2:40PM

2009_06_07 State Capitol.jpg State legislators approved a huge $29 billion public works program to create jobs and repair the state’s infrastructure, however roughly $500 million can be spent in legislator’s home districts on pet projects such as $50k for the Candlewick Lake Association, a gated lakefront community near Rockford with a 220-acre lake and a 9-hole golf course. The community did not ask for the money but according to Candlewick’s general manager, “We certainly will find good use for it,” he told WBBM. Other projects slated for grants include:

  • $100k for an Irish-American Heritage Center in Chicago
  • $500k for a baseball museum in McCook
  • $5 million to Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theater

Isn’t the state in a budget crisis? WBBM reports that there are two different pools of money:

"The construction money comes from borrowing with long-term bonds, and it can’t be used for basic government expenses - just as a family would not want to take out a second mortgage to pay the electric bill. The state will pay off that debt a little at a time by raising various taxes and fees.”

Most of the construction money will go to existing government projects like repaving roads or repairing schools for which communities will compete. And where will we see those increased taxes and fees that pay for government expenses? An increase in driver’s license and registration fees for one, higher taxes on beer, wine and hard liquor, and randomly, iced tea was singled out.

The public works expenditure has Quinn’s support but according to WBBM, “he won’t sign it into law until the state has a new budget to close a record-breaking $11.6 billion deficit”. One of his priorities will be developing a high-speed rail system in Illinois. Quinn will also have about $1 billion to spend at his discretion.

Of the $500 million, churches would get at least $2.6 million in tax money which got the attention of the ACLU who objects to grants handed to religious organizations for unspecified projects but an ACLU staff lawyer told WBBM, “There is not enough information available about most of the projects to tell whether they violate court rulings on mingling church and state.”

Historically there has been no accountability by the legislation to provide details about which lawmaker requested which grant or any details about the money handed out. In regard to accounting for expenditures, Patti Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno told WBBM, “We insisted that these be line-itemed", and “You ensure the taxpayers get the most bang for their buck and it’s not some pork-barrel projects.” [WBBM]