Investigation finds Illinois politicians packed extra pork into $45 billion plan

Investigation finds Illinois politicians packed extra pork into $45 billion plan

An investigation found $4 billion in funds to be doled out by politicians at their discretion, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker controlling half of it. The extra pork was packed into Illinois’ $45 billion infrastructure plan, including $144 million for Madigan friends – some who never asked for it.

An investigation into Illinois’ largest-ever capital projects bill found nearly $4 billion in discretionary funds set aside for politicians’ pork projects, including $2 billion for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to spend as he saw fit – including on needs he saw driving around during his campaign.

There was also $144 million for constituents with close ties to former House Speaker Michael Madigan, according to the Better Government Association analysis. Some of the recipients never asked for the money, with one who did ask getting over $29 million more than they sought.

The earmarks included $2 billion for the governor’s office, $368 million for House Democrats and $326 million for Senate Democrats. The remaining $1.2 billion was identified only as “leadership additions.”

These funds came in addition to the $600 million set aside for projects in state senators’ and representatives’ districts, dubbed “member initiatives.” Finding out which official sponsored which earmark is made intentionally difficult as sponsors’ names were not cited in the bill.

Asked how the specific projects were selected for the additions, the Pritzker administration said the governor picked his projects largely based on personal contacts, public input and general observations.

“Project ideas came from every corner of Illinois. The governor gathered ideas as he witnessed the need with his own eyes and from listening to residents as he traveled the state, even before he was elected the state’s chief executive,” Governor’s Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Carol Knowles said.

Before his ousting last year amid a sweeping federal corruption probe centering on the ComEd bribery scandal, Madigan played a principal role in deciding which state projects received “leadership addition” funds.

A further examination of public records by the BGA found at least $144 million went to projects benefitting Madigan’s constituents or those with close political ties to the nation’s longest-serving House Speaker.

The allotments included $98 million to dampen the noise caused by braking trains outside a former property tax client’s business, $31 million for a charter school employing two of Madigan’s close allies that only requested $1.5 million in support, $6 million for a suburban airport control tower a Madigan political ally wanted for years and another $9 million for a Chicago High School in Madigan’s legislative district that did not request any funding.

The John Hancock College Preparatory High School, a Madigan 13th Ward institution favored by him for over a decade, received more than 15% of the total money earmarked for specific Chicago schools.

Of the 642 public schools in Chicago, only the Academy for Global Citizenship charter school received more funding. The academy hired a former Madigan aide turned lobbyist and a Madigan ally implicated in the ComEd scandal.

The charter school received $31 million, more than half of the $58.3 million earmarked for individual Chicago schools in the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure bill, according to Chalkbeat Chicago. Most Chicago schools received nothing.

The BGA inquiry found the $4 billion was labeled as “additions” to the $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” package passed in 2019 to modernize state infrastructure.

An earlier Illinois Policy Institute report found $1.4 billion in waste and pork, including “necessary” dog parks, snowmobile paths, pickleball courts, school playgrounds, swimming pools, arts grants to be handed out by Madigan’s wife and much more. Much of the Madigan spending was identified in that and media reports in 2019 when lawmakers and Pritzker imposed 20 new taxes and fees worth $4.6 billion to fund the $45 billion infrastructure plan and a $40 billion state operating budget.

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