Controversial Legislative Scholarships to be Banned in Illinois

After decades of headlines about Illinois lawmakers giving out free tuition waivers to friends, relatives and campaign contributors, Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill to kill the long-abused legislative scholarship program.
by | July 11, 2012

By Ray Long, Chicago Tribune

Gov. Pat Quinn will sign a bill Wednesday to kill the long-abused legislative scholarship program.

The ban comes after decades of headlines about lawmakers giving out the tuition waivers to friends, relatives and campaign contributors.

"Nobody believes in the power of education more than Gov. Quinn, and that's precisely why he pushed to abolish political scholarships in Illinois," Brooke Anderson, Quinn's spokeswoman, said Tuesday.

Some legislators had fought to keep the tuition perks for years. A breakthrough on the issue came last spring when Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, dropped his long-held opposition to abolishing the program. It's an election year, and Cullerton was pushed by Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno, whose own troops had decided voluntarily to no longer pass out the scholarships.

"I think our caucus -- all of us refusing to give the scholarships -- got it to a tipping point," Radogno said. "It really demonstrated that you don't have to have it to win re-election."

Sponsoring Rep. Fred Crespo said getting the bill through both chambers was "pretty heavy lifting." While the House had passed the ban multiple times and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has been in favor of eliminating the program for a while, the Senate has always been a roadblock regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in charge.

"This program has been around for, like, a hundred years," said Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates. "Maybe back then it was good public policy. ... Right now I fail to see any public policy value in the way that this program existed."

Federal authorities have subpoenaed the scholarship records of former Rep. Robert Molaro, D-Chicago. That followed a Tribune report that Molaro had given $94,000 worth of tuition waivers to four children of a friend and longtime political supporter. The children did not live in Molaro's Southwest Side district, according to their driver's licenses and documents submitted to their universities.

Recipients must live in the lawmaker's district.

Legislators will have a few weeks to hand out a final round of scholarships, and then the program will be over.

(c)2012 the Chicago Tribune

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