Editorial | Pickleball, anyone?

Editorial | Pickleball, anyone?

There's not as much real infrastructure spending in the state's new infrastructure spending plan as its architects would have the public believe.

News reports still are barely scratching the surface of the $45 billion capital improvements bill passed in haste and secrecy by the Illinois General Assembly.

But enough details have come out to know that all the talk about needed spending to repair Illinois' "crumbling" roads and bridges was an exaggeration designed to disguise the usual porkfest these massive spending programs represent.

"Inside Illinois lawmakers' pork-barrel frenzy: Pickleball courts, dog parks and clout," states the headline atop a Chicago Tribune story that delves into the gruesome, but still vague, details of the spending plan.

Pickleball, a combination of a paddle sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis, apparently is an activity growing in popularity. At the same time, most people like dogs and accept the notion that having a place for them to run and play is good for them and their owners.

But surely everyone can agree that building pickleball courts and creating dog parks is a long way from the kind of infrastructure repair and building that is associated with maintaining the state's transportation network.

Then there is, as the Tribune pointed out, the clout that goes into determining who gets what in the porkfest.

Would readers find it surprising that this spending bill includes $50 million in funding for the Illinois Arts Council? Maybe they'd find it easier to believe, if not accept, if they knew the arts council is led by the wife of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Would it surprise anyone if $40 million in school construction and upgrades is going to two schools in Madigan's Chicago House district?

Champaign County residents have to vote to raise their property taxes to build new schools or repair old ones.

This kind of spending, of course, is bipartisan. Once the money starts flowing, almost everyone in the Legislature starts grabbing with both hands. After all, every legislator has constituents looking for financial assistance for their favorite programs.

One Chicago legislator obtained $370,000 for building renovations for the Inner City Muslim Action Network.

Not only does that expenditure have nothing to do with fixing public infrastructure, it represents public money going to a private religious purpose.

Legislators may pay lip service to the reality that millions of dollars will be spent for questionable purposes, but most go along with it.

State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Republican from Dixon, explained that "the difficult vote for me is a priority for somebody else, and the difficult vote for somebody else is a priority for me."

What that means is that they all look the other way and decide to worry about the cost later.

Speaking of costs, the $45 billion "infrastructure" building plan is being partly financed by $21 billion in new debt. Yes, Illinois — a state that already is drowning in debt, decided to go on another spending bender with borrowed money.

The good news is that some important work on the state's transportation network will get done, even if it comes at a fearsome cost.

But, really, what else is new in Illinois? As long as public spending like this is based as much on political clout as it is on actual merit, our legislators will do what comes — at least to them — naturally.

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