I-Team Report: Big Spenders

June 3, 2009 That's despite looming layoffs in the government and service cuts to taxpayers.

As millions of taxpayers in Illinois are holding the line on their own purchases, putting off things like new furniture or summer landscaping, the I-Team has found that the Illinois General Assembly is not nearly as frugal.

Legislators have plans for some big spending with the public's money on creature comforts for themselves and what some call questionable projects throughout the state.

The World Shooting and Recreation Complex in downstate Sparta is on the books to receive $2 million in state funds.

A downstate mansion is due $1 million from the state to rehab the home where a French land speculator lived in the time of Lewis and Clark.

The attorney general's building in Springfield is going to get more than $1 million to upgrade its "ice melting" system.

A large chunk of money in the 2010 state budget would end up being used for beautification and comfort projects in Springfield, in and around the state capitol and the office building where legislators work.

Millions of dollars are set aside for planning costs; other costs include reconstruction, expenses and reconstruction of the Senate offices in the capitol complex area; and moving expenses.

"It could cover anything from new chairs to new drapes to new improvements or rebuilding of the bureaucrats' office building or the Stratton office building. It could be just about anything…There is over $100,000 for landscaping at the Capitol," said Laurence Msall, Civic Federation president.

It may be pretty, but after 125 years of scrutinizing state budgets, Civic Federation officials say this year it is obvious that state leaders in Springfield need to wake up and smell the petunias.

"It's hard to believe those are critical priorities when they are not tied to a overall plan and when the state is saying we can't cut anymore and were going to have to raise your taxes for the operations of government," said Msall.

Chicago Senator Donne Trotter, a co-sponsor of the capital bill, said in a statement to the I-Team that the Civic Federation criticism is off target; that the capital budget addresses "infrastructure needs" and that some of the money, including the Jarrot mansion, may not actually be used this year.

"I'm not gonna allow any kind of monkey business," said Gov. Pat Quinn.

Gov. Quinn was in Washington on Wednesday looking for high speed rail funds, already set to receive $400 million in the Illinois budget.

At the White House, the I-Team asked Quinn about spending state money on new office furniture.

"I don't think there should be any time for redecorating given our tough economic times. I think we have to invest in important things. I'm going to take a close look at the capital budget the jobs budget to make sure we don't have trivial or frivolous things. I think basically overall things like high speed rail, fixing our roads and bridges, improving our water systems, repairing our schools and building new schools, fixing our university buildings - that is at the heart and soul of the capital bill," said Quinn.

Republican Senator Kirk Dillard says he supported the $29 billion capital budget (click here to read the budget) to put people to work and chastises those elected officials who plan to fund frivolous projects - especially with tax increases or proceeds from video poker and higher state fees.

"It upsets me to see ball fields and more superfluous stuff; especially when 99% of what's- there Democratic and Republican projects- are good. But it infuriates me like it should infuriate any taxpayer to see crazy projects," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Westmont.

Not everything in the budget is well defined.

The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is getting $423 million to be divvied up into state grants for legislators' pet projects in their districts, a procedure that a report by the Illinois auditor general found violates state statute and circumvents the appropriation process by "a failure to document expenses."

"We really need to change the way we do capital budgeting in Illinois because it's really not a budget it's just a wish list of different legislators' priorities. That's not good enough. That's not good enough in good economic times it's really unconscionable in these rough economic times," said Msall.

The big spenders in Springfield may have more eyes on them then ever before, including now the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Last week, the feds announced that based on Illinois' track record, it will be monitoring how $7 billion in federal stimulus money will be spent.

Capital Project List: www.state.il.us/budget/FY2010/Capital_Projects_List.xls

The United States Government Accountability Office report stating the 16 states whose federal recovery dollars will be studied in depth: www.gao.gov/new.items/d09453t.pdf

The IL Auditor General's report:

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