Illinois remains mired in a $7 billion sinkhole, and two weeks ago Governor Pat Quinn put the brakes on $50 million in state house necessities, such as new chandeliers and fancy office doors. But the I-Team has found millions more still being spent just down the street from the state Capitol, on a project state officials won't talk about.
"It's ridiculous," said Pat Gardner, Bolingbrook resident.
Pat Gardner is one taxpayer so aggravated about state spending she asked to talk to the I-Team, and when we showed her video you're about to see, she was irate.
"It has to be investigated because we deserve an answer, we are the taxpayers," said Gardner.
And it is taxpayers putting out $16 million on a facelift for the century-old state Supreme Court building. The overhaul is part of Governor Quinn's "Illinois Jobs Now" program.
"This is such a waste of taxpayer money," said Jim Tobin, Taxpayers United for America.
State officials backed out of an I-Team interview after a recent uproar about the $50 million Capitol renovation down the street. But they did allow the I-Team to inspect how taxpayer money is being spent here in the Supreme Court.
Inside, we found rooms gutted and walls being restored to their historic origin at a cost of nearly half a million dollars. Original historic light fixtures have all been removed and are being cleaned and restored or replaced.
You're also paying to purchase a brand-new marble pedestal to raise this statue of Abraham Lincoln from the floor to eye-level.
And then there is this: the toilet rooms. During a financial crisis, your tax money is being spent to restore the courthouse toilet rooms to how they looked 100 years ago.
"It's a scam perpetrated on the taxpayers, I mean, restoring historic toilet rooms to their original look? Who cares?" said Tobin.
This private anteroom behind the Supreme Court chambers used to only have one chandelier. Now, the state is purchasing two more historic copies. The renovation's "miscellaneous specialties" include restoring these historic tapestries, murals, and replacing this decorative glass in a stairwell ceiling.
"People are paying higher taxes to finance this waste and extravagance," said Tobin.
In a statement late Monday, Illinois officials insist the renovation is mainly for vital heating and cooling systems, fire protection and security measures that "saves taxpayer money in operating costs." They say renovations on old buildings are best done all at one time for "historical accuracy with modern function."
The ABC7 I-Team found some of the money is being used to makeover a place the public can't even go and probably never knew existed: a private, penthouse residence for Supreme Court justices, where they may live while court is in session. The main hallway is being restored to its historical glory.
"Fifty million dollars spent on the west wing of the state Capitol, here's another 15, 16 million dollars spent to renovate the IL Supreme Court building, that's all pork," said Tobin.
For taxpayer Pat Gardner, the talk-- and the hammering-- should stop.
"Who's minding the store? Who's running the state? Who's signing off on this stuff?" said Gardner.
The renovation was in the works for years according to state officials and they say financed with bonds that can't be used to pay regular bills. During the remodeling the court is meeting in Chicago, the first time since 1908 that justices have convened outside Springfield.
Breakdown of Historic Preservation:
- $230,858 (Exterior doors & windows – included custom paint, grill restoration and other related misc)
- $156,371 (Partitions & interior door / glazing / hardware / window treatments)
- $107,485 (Floor finishes)
- $26,701 (Base finishes)
- $488,052 (Wall finishes)
- $1,075 (Ceiling finishes)
- $146,117(Miscellaneous specialties)
- $56,345 (Misc built-in cabinetwork)
- $54,650 (Site Preparation)
- $15,441 (Electrical Demo)
- $401,044 (Lighting)
- $30,000 (Conduit, wire, receptacles etc.--estimated)
Estimated Total Historic Preservation Cost: $1,714,139