Legislators vote with regularity to end their practice of handing out tuition waivers to select students, but somehow the program hasn't gone away.
Election-year theatrics continue over the scandal-ridden legislative scholarship program, but it's not looking like anything more than the usual political posturing.
Members of the Illinois House voted last week by a 79-25 margin to eliminate the perk that was intended to permit each member of the Illinois House and Senate to award tuition waivers to needy and worthy students in their districts.
What that has meant over many decades is that legislators have awarded the tuition waivers to their own relatives or the children of campaign donors or supporters. It's been a source of intermittent scandal, the kind that drives beleaguered taxpayers who can barely afford their own children's college tuition to distraction.
The House vote won quick applause from Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been adamant in his desire to put this program to a quick end.
"As I have repeatedly advocated in the past, scholarships — paid for by Illinois taxpayers — should be awarded only to those with merit who are in true financial need," said Quinn.
The governor's logic is indisputable. But state government in Illinois is a logic-free zone. In the Land of Lincoln, legislative perks, however, embarrassing, have a long shelf-life.
That's why political observers are suggesting that the proposed repeal is going nowhere in the Illinois Senate, where Democratic Sen. Mike Frerichs is the sponsor.
Unfortunately, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, a product of the Chicago Machine, doesn't look kindly on the proposed repeal.
Of course, he doesn't come right out and say that. He says he wants to reform the legislative scholarship program or take a big-picture look at all state scholarship programs.
But what he means is that he'll do all he can to protect the status quo so that members of the House and Senate can continue to abuse the program in the future just as they have in the past.
Since Cullerton decides what bills members of the Senate can vote on, it's pretty much up to him whether this bill will even get a vote, let alone a favorable vote.
As has been repeatedly stated whenever the subject comes up, the legislative scholarship program has been a source of repeated embarrassments for generations of legislators. In response, they hunker down and wait for the negative news coverage to pass.
But now U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the Chicago-based federal prosecutor, is examining unspecified breaches of the rules surrounding the scholarships by various legislators. He could make things awfully uncomfortable not just for the legislators who ignore the rules but also their enablers, Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan.
An indictment or two would really roil the atmosphere in Springfield.
It is, of course, our fervent hope that members of the Senate will join with House members to end this beleaguered program. It forces unnecessary costs on public universities already under severe financial pressure while reinforcing the notion that government in Illinois is by and for the insiders.
But history has shown that legislators will hang on to their perks — even those scarred by scandal — with bloody fingernails.