Audit: Chicago saves $1 million after Ald. Burke quits finance committee

Audit: Chicago saves $1 million after Ald. Burke quits finance committee

Chicago’s longest-serving alderman used his power as chair of the City Council Finance Committee to pad staffs, give himself a security detail.

After Ald. Ed Burke lost control of the purse strings, Chicago saved $1 million.

That’s according to an annual audit by the city of Chicago. Burke, 14th Ward, resigned Jan. 4, 2019, as chair of the City Council Finance Committee the day after being charged with 14 counts of corruption. He plead not guilty after he was indicted by a federal grand jury.

In Burke’s last year, 2018, as the most powerful and longest-serving alderman in Chicago, the committee spent $2 million, which included paying 30 staffers and six bodyguards for Burke. In 2019, the office spent just $1.1 million, even though it was budgeted for $1.4 million.

Former Ald. Pat O’Connor, 40th Ward, replaced Burke. The current chair of the committee, Ald. Scott Waguespack, 32nd Ward, replaced O’Connor when Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office.

Under Waguespack, the committee’s expenditures were dramatically reduced. He only employs three full-time staffers and does not have a security detail. Instead, the committee’s budget has been spent on new computer software to better track contracts and small claims, according to WTTW.

Burke’s big spending also included loaning staff members to other aldermen who were struggling to pay their staffs. This move helped Burke make other aldermen feel indebted to him and allowed him to keep power and respect.

He also oversaw the $100 million workers compensation fund, which Burke allowed to become full of waste, fraud and mismanagement. City Comptroller Reshma Soni said it will take two years for the city to fix all the problems that accumulated under Burke’s control.

The cost of corruption in Illinois will take far more than two years to clean up, however. Corruption costs Illinois taxpayers $556 million each year in lost economic activity. Between 2000 and 2018, corruption costs added up to $10.6 billion, which amounts to $830 per Illinoisan.

Chicago is the most corrupt city in America, according to a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago. After 50 years in city government, the federal charges indicate Burke has contributed significantly to the problem. But he’s not the only corrupt Chicago alderman.

In recent years, Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward, had her offices raided by federal investigators looking for evidence she used taxpayer-backed funds to buy herself a home. Former Ald. Willie Cochran was sent to prison for over a year for wire fraud. Cochran became the 34th Chicago alderman convicted of corruption since 1972 and was the third alderman from the 20th Ward to be indicted while in office.

Burke won’t stand trial until the middle of 2021 at the earliest, despite being charged in early 2019.

The revelation about Burke’s $1 million in waste at City Hall shows just how much damage corrupt leaders can do to government finances.

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan was implicated in the ComEd bribery scandal after decades of leadership that brought Illinois’ credit status to the lowest in the nation, gave it the highest rate of spending on public pensions in the nation and has dug Illinois into a deep financial hole.

He was joined by four General Assembly members who have been implicated in corruption investigations as key backers of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s “fair tax” question on the Nov. 3 ballot. Several of them face tax evasion charges and Pritzker also faces a federal probe of a property tax dodge on his Gold Coast mansion.

If politicians show they will abuse the power they already have, and spend whatever money they can get, who can trust state lawmakers with greater power to decide who is taxed how much?

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