Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan should heed Gov. Pat Quinn's call to sponsor legislation to abolish the legislative scholarship program.
Two of the state's top Democratic leaders, Gov. Pat Quinn and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, are squabbling over Quinn's amendatory veto of the long-disgraced legislative scholarship program.
In August, Quinn exercised his amendatory veto authority to bring the program to an end in July 2012. He vetoed a bill that brought some reforms to the program, saying that he could not "in good conscience sign any legislation that continues to allow legislators to bestow this benefit on a select few."
Legislators would take up Quinn's veto in the session that starts Oct. 25, but Madigan indicated this week he would not let legislators vote on Quinn's rewrite because the governor overstepped his bounds. Madigan maintains that Quinn's veto is unconstitutional because he used his amendatory power to abolish the program by rewriting legislation that only limited it, and he has a legitimate point.
So Quinn on Thursday called on Madigan to sponsor legislation himself to abolish the program. Quinn said he was disappointed by Madigan's position and wants him or other lawmakers to act to abolish the program when they go back to work because "you can't mend it."
The legislative scholarship program has long been a stain on the state of Illinois. The program has for decades been beset with reports of abuse by legislators, and we have repeatedly called for the program's end.
In the past, legislators have viewed their power to grant the tuition waivers — sometimes to friends, family or political supporters — as a valuable political perk to be maintained at all costs.
Long used to ignoring calls to end the program, legislators have had their attention focused by the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, which began a criminal probe of the program and targeted at least three legislators for violating the rules of the program by granting scholarships to individuals who do not live in their districts.
A bipartisan coalition of central Illinois legislators, including state Reps. Naomi Jakobsson, Chapin Rose, Chad Hays and Jason Barickman and state Sen. Mike Frerichs, has urged the General Assembly to repeal the scholarship program.
We hope the tide is turning on the disgraced program, and we agree with Quinn — the powerful speaker of the House should take the lead in finally bringing it to a close.
A bigger problem may come in the Senate, where its president, Democrat John Cullerton, thinks the program can be reformed without being eliminated. Memo to Sen. Cullerton: It can't. Years of experience have proved that. Besides, the program is costing the state's universities $13 million a year in lost tuition revenue, a loss they can ill afford. The program serves no purpose, and it's time to stop playing games.
Madigan has voted to abolish the program before. A push from the state's most powerful Democrat could persuade recalcitrant House members and move the Senate. It's time.