Illinois has taken a small step in the right direction.
Gov. Pat Quinn put the much-reviled legislative scholarship program out of its misery on Wednesday, signing a bill that abolishes the century-old perk of office.
His signature came on the heels of news reports about the pending federal investigation of legislators who violated the program's only rule by giving the scholarships, actually tuition waivers, to individuals who did not reside within their districts.
The U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago apparently has added Chicago Democratic state Sen. Annazette Collins to its list of House and Senate members under criminal investigation. The feds have sent a subpoena to Collins' office seeking records on the tuition waivers she has awarded during her lengthy tenure in the Illinois House and Senate.
Collins' defense lawyer, the well-known Michael Monico, moved quickly to assure reporters that "we don't believe that the senator did anything criminal or that would arise to a federal criminal violation." If that really were true, Collins would not need to be represented by a lawyer as experienced and, presumably, expensive as Monico.
Collins drew the attention of federal investigators following news reports that she awarded tuition waivers to five students, all of whom listed a former residence of Collins' as their own. Records, reported the Chicago Sun-Times, showed some of the five had other addresses.
But the real problems with the scholarships is that the vast discretion they left to legislators allowed considerable abuse. Scores of legislators over the years have awarded tuition waivers to relatives as well as to the children of friends and campaign supporters.
Many tuition waivers were given to worthy recipients for legitimate reasons. But it's undeniable that scandal has dogged this program for decades.
Now it's coming to an end. Gov. Quinn deserves credit for pushing for repeal. But the reality is that the abusers deserve the real credit for ending the scholarship program. They abused it so much and for so long that their fellow House and Senate members finally felt compelled to bring the political embarrassment the program engendered to an end.