As long as the state's legislative scholarship program is in place, it will continue to be abused — as a recent news report demonstrates.
Some people may have taken heart with last week's news report showing that 77 members of the Illinois House and Senate are no longer handing out tuition waivers to favored recipients.
It was a sign of progress, one reflecting the impact of continuing scandals surrounding the legislative scholarship program and the negative public perception the scandals have produced.
But change comes slowly in states as corrupt as Illinois, and the program remains almost as rotten now as it always has been — a source of political patronage to be lavished by legislators on family members, campaign supporters and political donors.
Just a few days after the news report that more and more legislators have abandoned the tuition waiver program comes more news of its abuse.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that state Rep. Robert Rita, a Chicago Democrat, gave a four-year University of Illinois tuition waiver to the daughter of a political friend and supporter.
Records show that Rita provided the tuition waiver to the daughter of Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale. The Sun-Times reports that Beale is paid $110,000 a year to serve as an alderman, and that "until recently" his wife, Dana Beale, earned more than $75,000 a year from a patronage job with Secretary of State Jesse White. That's a combined income of nearly $200,000 a year just in annual public salaries.
Beale's wife now works part-time in her husband's legislative office.
Rita has fallen back on the usual excuse of legislators caught abusing the tuition waiver program. He issued a statement saying that Beale's daughter is so well-qualified that "denying such an academically talented and civic-minded student a tuition waiver because of her father's job would amount to blatant discrimination against a promising African-American student."
Rita declined to answer any questions, including disclosure of how many applications he received or how he goes about choosing who will receive a tuition waiver.
He's not fooling anybody, and he knows he's not fooling anybody. The legislators who continue to abuse this program have no fear of being held responsible for their misconduct, and Rita could not care less what people think.
It's just another example of the kind of contempt some elected officials have for the public.
It's also another example of why the legislative scholarship program must be discontinued. Until it is, ethically challenged legislators will continue to take advantage of this perk of office.