Don’t be misled by claims that state legislators enacted broad and meaningful ethics reforms this week.
It’s the way of Springfield that at the same time lawmakers are passing what they term a package of ethics reforms they’re also, more importantly, passing a $42 billion budget that got minimal review and undoubtedly is full of pork and favors.
Don’t read much into those claims that the Illinois General Assembly has done much to clean up its act.
Yes, some reforms were enacted. No longer can lawmakers be paid for an entire months’ worth of work if they only work a day or two. Only in Illinois can the end of that practice be called a reform. Legislators now will be required to reveal more information in their annual financial disclosure statements, but they still won’t have to disclose potential conflicts by close family members.
One welcome change is that the legislation allows the legislative inspector general to open investigations into violations of state election laws without approval of an eight-member executive ethics commission — which is appointed by legislative leaders. It will be worth watching if the legislative inspector general is able to conduct more investigations and make those findings public.
But rules, regulations and laws only go so far in a Legislature where for decades most of the most important legislating is done in the last three days of a legislative session, when people are exhausted and distracted and the public is overwhelmed with too many issues to watch.
That was the case again this year when after several consecutive days of work — and on Memorial Day no less — lawmakers passed a 3,088-page budget that had been placed on their desks only hours before. No one knows or had studied every detail in that budget, but a cursory review showed plenty of spending on projects and agencies that hadn’t gotten any kind of independent appraisal.
On page 3,076, for example, is $500,000 to the city of Champaign “for costs associated with sewer system upgrades.” That’s as detailed as the expenditure of half a million dollars gets.
Or this one: $2 “or so much thereof as may be necessary” for a grant to the village of Findlay “for general infrastructure.” Similar grants were made to Gibson City, Bismarck, Vermilion County, Iroquois County, Chatsworth, Buckley, Cissna Park, Clifton, Rossville, Hoopeston, Milford and communities across the state. There also was $100,000 to Bishop McNamara High School in Kankakee for building repairs. Other private schools also got the state grants.
Every legislator and county and village and township seem to get a little something in terms of grants or awards, but that doesn’t make it fair or reasonable. And oversight is minimal.
You’re likely to hear a lot from legislators in the coming weeks about ethics reforms enacted in Illinois. Those baby steps toward change came at the same time the Legislature drew another partisan redistricting map — without 2020 Census data — and approved an enormous budget with little review.