Pet Projects: Who's cashing in on your dime?

February 27, 2013 4:57:58 PM PST
The State of Illinois is broke. So why are residents paying for the state to help private organizations?

We have a laundry list of projects Illinois taxpayers funded even though the state is almost $9 billion in the hole.

When state officials spend state money, it's your money entrusted to them and so it's supposed to benefit the public.

The I-Team has discovered that public benefit sometimes means private gain.

Read the list of state grants HERE

A history museum for a village that's only 55-years-old, an elevator for a two-story building, brand-new lights for a little league field and more.

You're paying for this and millions more in pet projects across the state.

The Oak Brook Heritage Cente is open one day a week for only four hours. It's in the midst of renovating the "Old Butler School" from new crown molding to restoring a hidden fireplace. It's a top to bottom overhaul.

The fundraising has not been as plentiful as we would like.

Now with the help of a $75,000 state grant, you're paying for drainage upgrades to the building's exterior.

It's an effort to preserve the history of a village that was incorporated in 1958 and only has three historic buildings.

"It's important for us to restore and respect our historical buildings, because we only have the three in Oak Brook. That makes this building really significant," Oak Brook Historical Society President Kathy Maher said.

Oak Brook's grant is a part of the more than $85 million in "Government Initiative Grants" promised or paid by the state for Fiscal Year 2013.

These grants fund projects requested by the governor or that legislators earmark for their own district, like these new little league stadium lights in the western suburbs.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross steered $150,000 to the Troy Baseball League in Shorewood, his home district, to help fund their park upgrades.

Cross' office says Shorewood doesn't have a park district, so he helped fund the project.

A brand new elevator for the two-story Chicago office of the local chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity is also on the state tab.

State Senator Donne Trotter and former representative Marlow Colvin are both members of this chapter but fraternity officials said Colvin spearheaded the effort to get the $100,000 grant.

The fraternity said they need the elevator to provide handicapped access to their second floor meeting space.

"It's hard to see in that instance how a two story elevator in a private building serves a public purpose," the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's Deputy Director David Morrison said. "This is a private association, they ought to be able to raise their own funds and the fact that the sponsor for the grant was himself a member of the association raises all kinds of red flags."

$775,000 in state money was also promised to Draper and Kramer, a Chicago real estate management business .

They're using state funds to install "smart meters" in some of their Chicago condo and office towers. Draper and Kramer executives said the funds are part of an energy project that will help their buildings operate more efficiently.

A Canadian company used state funds to help buy an old Chicago steel mill and replaced its old boiler in order to open a movie and TV soundstage. $7.3 million has been awarded to Cinespace Chicago Film Studios by the Quinn administration since 2011.

Studio officials said the state's investment is attracting millions of dollars from the movie and TV business.

"Taxpayers have a right to say look, we have all these service providers who haven't been paid, they're shutting down, they can't provide services, why are you spending money on this, when these other things are so pressing too?" Morrison said.

State officials answer that charge by saying that grant money is part of the capital program designed to create jobs and can't be used to pay long overdue bills.

The owner of the movie studio that received $7 million in grant money told the I-Team he doesn't believe any other Illinois project has created as many jobs and revenue for the state in such a short time.

Statement from: Nick Mirkopoulos, Owner-Cinespace Chicago Film Studios
"I am very proud of the project we have started and created here in Chicago. I appreciate that Governor Quinn has had the same vision as myself. I don't believe there is any other project in Illinois that has created so many jobs, and revenue for Illinois, in such a short time. We have been able to take 1.5 million square feet of empty buildings on the west side of Chicago, and create a healthy industry for the citizens of Illinois."