The controversial tuition waiver program has become too hot for many state legislators to handle.
Members of the Illinois House and Senate can't bring themselves to give up on the controversial perk of office, but fewer of them are handing out legislative scholarships.
A recent survey indicates that 77 members of the Illinois General Assembly abandoned the practice in 2011, opting to no longer hand out the tuition waivers to favored students.
That's mostly because the program has been abused for decades by legislators from all over the state who have used it to favor relatives, the children of campaign donors or children of political supporters and friends.
The scholarship program is due to get another dose of bad publicity when federal prosecutors in Chicago wrap up their current investigation of criminal improprieties linked to it. A handful of legislators and former legislators have been linked to the improprieties, and there's no telling when the feds will wrap up their probe.
But it's a virtual certainty the results of the investigation will not be good news for those who have abused the program.
Bowing to public pressure, legislators have made a few half-hearted attempts to abolish legislative scholarships. Earlier this year, they approved a few faux reforms of the program, only to become outraged when Gov. Pat Quinn used his amendatory veto authority to abolish it outright, an exercise of his authority that requires a legislative vote to affirm.
Unfortunately, House Speaker Michael Madigan has refused to call Quinn's amendatory veto for a vote, so the program remains in place.
Nonetheless, legislators are feeling the effects of all the bad publicity, and they should.
This is not so much a scholarship program as a cost-shifting program. That's because there is no funding for the tuition waivers. Institutions like the University of Illinois are essentially forced to absorb the costs of tuition for some students, and they do so by increasing tuition costs imposed on other students.
So it's not just an unjustified gift to some students, but a financial penalty on others.
It would be unfair to suggest that the tuition waivers always are awarded for political reasons. Some of the waivers are merit-based, with some legislators appointing special committees to review applications and selecting winners based on a variety of factors.
Regardless, the simple fact is that tuition waivers are another form of political patronage that the state cannot afford, both in the financial and ethical sense. It's good to see more and more members of the House and Senate recognize that reality and act accordingly. At the same time, it's deeply disappointing the majority continues to cling to the unsavory practices of the past.