Corruption costs taxpayers dearly

Corruption costs taxpayers dearly

It makes no sense for the state to lavish money on outside lawyers when investigators already are on the payroll.

There is, as the old saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. Given that reality, the best way to do so is the most cost-effective way, particularly if cash is short.

That's why state officials are correct that, until proven otherwise, the best way to root out improper patronage hiring in Illinois is in-house through the executive inspector general's office rather than vastly expanding the duties of a hugely expensive, outside law firm that monitors hiring.

In fact, it's a no-brainer.

Nonetheless, Gov. Bruce Rauner is in federal court trying to persuade a judge not to drop another financial bomb on the effectively bankrupt state of Illinois.

The case stems from years (2003-14) of corrupt hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Former Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn oversaw what can only be described as a conspiracy to engage in wholesale violations of state hiring law to ensure that friends, family members and campaign donors of powerful Democrats were put on the payroll without going through the traditional hiring process.

That kind of patronage hiring has been illegal since 1990, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state's political hiring process under former Republican Gov. James Thompson.

The decision paved the way for merit hiring, a system that gives everyone a fair chance at securing state employment instead of just those with political connections.

The IDOT case is in court because Chicago lawyer Michael Shakman challenged state compliance, a move that opened a can of worms late in Quinn's administration.

Now as part of that lawsuit, Shakman is asking a federal judge to expand the current monitoring of IDOT to all state agencies.

Or, as the legal motion filed by Rauner's office put it, the law firm's turf would be expanded "from one agency and 5,000 employees to 51 agencies and 50,000 employees."

The state already has paid the outside monitor $800,000 for its IDOT work. Imagine the costs if the monitor's assigned work exponentially expands.

It's a sad fact that most citizens don't pay much attention to what happens at all levels of government. To them, it's just noise.

That's too bad because it costs taxpayers a fortune through what is known as Illinois' "corruption tax." That refers to the extra costs to taxpayers caused by insiders rigging the game — in this case illegal hiring — for themselves as well as the investigatory costs of trying to track down the wrongdoers.

There's no doubt that Gov. Rauner is committed to taking the steps necessary to expose this insidious practice. But, given limited resources, he's sensibly assigned Executive Inspector General Maggie Hickey to oversee hiring decisions to make sure rules are followed. He has proposed a $600,000 budget increase to provide additional resources for that office's hiring and employment monitoring unit.

Unfortunately, taxpayers pay either way. But there's no reason they should pay more than necessary.

Here's another reality involving this kind of corruption in Illinois. The wrongdoers almost always get away with it.

How else can one explain why only about 30 of IDOT's illegal hires over an 11-year period recently lost their jobs? The others have either left IDOT or were transferred into union-protected positions and, as a result, are safe and sound.

Being illegally hired in the first place has no bearing on the matter. That's a real Illinois-style disgrace.

It does, of course, make perfect sense to suspect that patronage hiring wasn't limited to IDOT and was pervasive throughout the executive branch. But there's hardly any sense in pursuing a hugely expensive investigation if only a few wrongdoers ultimately are identified and removed from the state payroll.

Make no mistake, it's a good thing that the curtain was pulled back and the misbehavior at IDOT exposed. If there was similar misconduct elsewhere, expose that, too. But Illinois' impoverished state must also be a consideration in deciding how to proceed.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on September 21, 2016 at 5:09 pm

It has been going on longer than old men remember.  It happened under Walker, Thompson, Edgar, Ryan, Blago, and Quinn.  It happened before Walker,  Paul Powell, Speaker of the House, learned it from whoever was his mentor.

The Rutan vs. the State of Illinois decision indicated that it could not happen at the lower ranks, but "management" was not subject to nepotism protection.  That extends from the local office supervisor up through directors of agencies.

Now, Rauner is a crusader for corruption reform.  Do you really think that he has not appointed supporters like his wife?  He, also, pays contracts for "visiting" management, and advisors.  It is the same candy bar with a different wrapper.  Citizens should be aware of the costs, and corruption by using private contractors.  Do you think that sizeable contracts for corporate prison guards are not willing to provide kick backs, or "donations"?  Sure, it looks good using a private law firm to investigate whatever is deemed to be investigated.  You can get the results you want that way.  It is just another political trick.

Like Bill Cellini, bi-partisan president of the asphaltors association, was reported saying when the Blago top people gathered after Blago's election.  "We are here when you lose, and when you win."  Corruption is a bi-partisan industry.