Illinois tollway chair resigns following patronage scandal

Illinois tollway chair resigns following patronage scandal

Robert Schillerstrom submitted his resignation after chairing the Illinois tollway for four years. An investigation revealed the outgoing chairman doled out hundreds of millions of dollars in patronage contracts.

On Jan. 18, Illinois State Toll Highway Authority Chairman Robert Schillerstrom handed his resignation to Gov. J.B. Pritzker amid increasing scrutiny of the authority and state lawmaker moves to replace its board.

An investigation by the Daily Herald found Schillerstrom had been awarding high-priced contracts to firms that employed political connections and relatives. Those contracts reached into the millions of dollars.

The tollway authority’s costly history of abuse is significant this year because state and local leaders have called for a record gas tax hike to finance capital improvements. Illinoisans currently pay the 10th-highest gas tax in the nation on average, according to the Tax Foundation.

In September 2018, the Daily Herald reported Schillerstrom had “in less than two years” hired six former political colleagues to tollway positions, five of them collecting six-figure salaries. Those positions collectively earn “nearly $916,000 a year.”

Schillerstrom, a former Republican DuPage County president, had appointed former Republican Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman as executive director with a salary of $215,000 – an increase of $29,000 from her predecessor.

Tollway patronage extended to its outsourced work under Schillerstrom: The agency awarded a $157 million management deal to OMEGA & Associates, which employs the children of Schillerstrom and tollway Chief Engineer Paul Kovacs.

As one of the first actions taken by the new General Assembly, lawmakers in both chambers passed bills that would end the terms of the tollway’s current board of directors. Pritzker would have until Feb. 28 to name their replacements. The Pritzker administration criticized the agency’s “unethical behavior” and lack of transparency Jan. 7, according to the Herald. The governor has yet to sign the bill.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner appointed Schillerstrom to chair the toll authority in 2015.

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