socastcmsRssStartBy Greg Bishop | Illinois News NetworksocastcmsRssEnd
House Republicans say they are having to play by different rules to get public works grants to their local districts.
The budget passed in May included guaranteed funding for millions of dollars in grants for local infrastructure projects. For example, the budget included $500,000 for infrastructure in Belleville. Another budget line has $1.7 million for Cicero. Both are districts represented by Democrats. There are other projects for Democrats’ and some Republicans’ districts as line items in the budget.
State Rep. Marty Moylan, D-Des Plaines, has several projects budged in his area, including $225,000 for the Elk Grove Greenleaf Lift Station. Moylan said they’re important projects.
“As Representatives we try and help out, we listen to their concerns and try to get the name of the project, the number of the project, and get it imported into the budget process,” Moylan said.
The 1,200-plus page budget enacted this summer grants $75.3 million for “grants and loans to local governments for planning, engineering, acquisition, construction, reconstruction, development, improvement and extension of the public infrastructure, and for any other purposes authorized.” There’s no direct line item appropriations for that grant funding.
A list obtained Tuesday by Illinois News Network has different projects for districts held by House Republicans totaling $12.6 million.
“[Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity] administers grant programs designed for capital improvements as defined within the annual appropriation bill (Public Act 100-0586) set forth by the Illinois General Assembly,” one grant letter states. “The goal of this program is to improve the quality of life of Illinoisans.”
State Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, said those are grant requests that aren’t guaranteed, unlike many projects in Democratic districts that were budgeted.
“I would point to some items in the budget that seem to be centered in Democratic held districts that are direct appropriations and that cannot be held up,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler said one request he’s listed having is for $50,000 for the Yorkville American Legion baseball field, a project he said was originally requested in 2009 but never received funding. He wants to get a total of $400,000 for various projects in the district.
State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, wasn’t on the GOP district list of proposed projects, but he said it’s clear Republicans have to play by different rules than Democrats.
“We need to be playing out of the same book here and obviously that is not the case with how this budget was enacted this year,” Butler said.
The GOP list of projects per district range from $60,000 for state Rep. Keith Sommer’s district to $600,000 for House Minority Leader Jim Durkin’s district. A message left with Durkin’s office wasn’t immediately returned.
Illinois Policy Institutes’ Adam Schuster said there needs to be more transparency in the state’s grant-giving. And with limited tax dollars in a cash-strapped state “the lesson here is that we need a grant making process for infrastructure that is insulated from political favoritism and where projects are decided on merit,” Schuster said.
He said the process should be all-inclusive, where each item is debated by not just lawmakers, but also by public interest groups to determine if the projects are needed as opposed to wanted.
Spokesmen for House and Senate Democrats said they don’t have a project list for their members.
“At that point you’ve got to wonder if they played their cards a different way and got it done in the budget process rather than in the grant process,” Wheeler said.
A spokesman for Senate Republicans didn’t return a message seeking comment.