I-Team

I-Team Report: I Thought We Were Broke?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just because Illinois is billions of dollars in the red doesn't mean the government is out of money. And just because state workers are being let go and some essential human services face elimination, that doesn't mean the government trough is empty.

If you're saying, "I thought we were broke," that is precisely what the I-Team said when we found a list of $67 million in state payments in the past few months.

"For whatever reason, they paid us," said Ray Hanania, spokesman for the Town of Cicero.

It's a time when most recipients thought the state was broke.

"We've had budget cuts. We've had to lay off staff, furlough days and so forth," said Erin Rochford, Valentine Boys and Girls Club in Bridgeport.

The state-spending paperwork is supposed to be secret, according to the directive atop the document, possibly because most of the projects were created by the previous administration of Rod Blagojevich.

Wilmette received $130,000 to build a bike path that was just one block long. Evanston got a check for $187,000 to repave basketball and tennis courts. "The people of Alsip welcome you" -- and nearly $19,000 your state dollars -- to help pay for a sign with that phrase outside the village hall. And Cicero received $77,000 in final funding for a graffiti blaster and 2,500 new anti-rat trash cans.

"There was little surprise that we got paid. But you know, I'm not saying we want to give it back," said Hanania.

Northbrook got $13,000 for gazebo repairs. Woodstock received almost $19,000 toward a new opera house sound system. And the Valentine Boys and Girls Club got $75,000 to shore up totem poles and some brickwork.

"It gives the kids a sense of belonging for their club. We're the only club in the whole country as well as in the city that they can say, 'Oh, I'm from the Valentine Club, and we have totem poles,'" said Rochford.

"It's a question of who's standing up and saying, 'Enough, we can't afford these kinds of things,'" said Cindi Canary, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Canary says we can't afford Blagojevich's leftover pet projects.

"Clearly we're busted, but this is almost like a month ago, we were feeling kind of flush, took our credit card, went to the mall, went a little crazy. Now it's the end of the month and we don't have food on the table, but we still have to pay that bill," said Canary.

Illinois Budget Director James Vaught defended funding these old projects with new money from the bond sale for Governor Pat Quinn's Illinois Jobs Now! program.

"There were a lot of priorities, a lot of people came forward with priorities. Its focus is not on reappropriations, its focus was on new projects," Vaught said.

One priority: $262,000 in state funds rehabbed a pond for model boaters on Chicago's South Side. But because pool entrances are padlocked, all the I-Team found floating was trash -- and a few ducks.

So with spending decisions like that, how bad can things really be in Illinois? In London on Wednesday, CMA, a credit information company, put out its rankings of governments most likely to default on loans. Venezuela was first, followed by Greece and Argentina. Iraq was sixth. Illinois was eighth.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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