Pritzker freezes funds for Madigan-sponsored projects
Governor JB Pritzker has agreed to freeze tens of millions of dollars in public funding for four projects sponsored by indicted former President Michael J. Madigan, his office announced Tuesday.
The freeze came after a group of nine Democratic state officials called for it following Madigan’s 22-count bribery indictment last week.
In a letter to Pritzker on Monday, lawmakers cited a January investigation by the Better Government Association that found at least $144 million went to the four projects Madigan planned as part of an improvement measure. of 2019 infrastructure called Rebuild Illinois.
Each of these Madigan-sponsored projects — among nearly $4 billion in pork barrel funding shoved unceremoniously into the $45 billion legislation — has benefited those with whom the former president has personal, professional or social ties. policies, according to the survey.
In their letter to Pritzker, the lawmakers said last week’s indictment accusing Madigan of swapping office to enrich himself and his friends raises new questions about the potential for parallels.
Contacted by the BGA on Tuesday, a Pritzker spokeswoman said in an email response that the governor had agreed to investigate Madigan-sponsored postings.
“At the request of General Assembly members who voted for the capital plan, the administration will freeze funding for the projects outlined in their letter,” Pritzker press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh wrote.
The governor’s office did not elaborate.
The statement from Pritzker’s office came after Pritzker received a two-page letter signed by nine Democratic state officials.
“Although some funding for these projects may have already been allocated,” the letter said. “We are asking for another level of review to determine if this was an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money.”
The group was led by state Rep. Ann M. Williams, D-Chicago, who launched an unsuccessful bid against Madigan to become a speaker last year. Each of the representatives who signed the letter were among 19 lawmakers whose votes helped deny Madigan another term as president in the corruption probe.
“Anything related to Madigan is in question,” Williams said in an interview with the BGA on Tuesday. “We owe it to the taxpayers to carefully consider these projects.
“If there is a way to recover misappropriated funds and use them for infrastructure projects for schools, roads and bridges, mental health clinics, food pantries or other critical needs, we should find it,” she said.
Madigan did not respond to a request for comment.
Among the four projects listed by lawmakers was a $98 million noise reduction project at Belt Railway yards, where screeching train brakes interrupted the sleep of guests at nearby Bedford Park hotels.
The hotel owners, Jon and Mark Weglarz, have been tax appeal clients of Madigan & Getzendanner.
“According to the Better Government Association, the brothers said they never applied for the funding,” the letter to Pritzker said. The BGA survey was published by the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Was this huge expenditure of taxpayers’ money intended to benefit the community or was it advanced for the benefit of Madigan’s private clients?” Williams said in a press release. “It seems that in this case, the interests of Illinois residents have taken precedence over the culture of cronyism that was a hallmark of the Madigan era.”
Although the $98 million brake job would benefit Weglarz-owned hotels and their guests, the request for the grant came from the village of Bedford Park. The work is managed by the Illinois Department of Transportation.
“We were not involved in the grant application or even aware of it,” the Weglarz brothers said in an email to the BGA on Tuesday. “This decision and process is up to state officials, IDOT and the Village of Bedford Park.”
A spokesman for the belt, General Counsel Chris Steinway, said the railroad “did not request any funds from the State of Illinois, nor were we the intended recipient.” .
“Our operations will not be affected if these funds are frozen,” Steinway said.
Lawmakers also asked Pritzker to freeze payments pending review of three other projects listed in the BGA report.
These projects included a $31 million allocation for the Academy for Global Citizenship, $9 million for John Hancock College Preparatory High School and an additional $6 million for the construction of a control tower at the airport. from Lewis University in Romeoville.
All were sponsored by Madigan and supported by Madigan political allies or lobbyists with close ties to Madigan.
They were all funded through a process largely shrouded in secrecy, where Madigan and other state government power brokers were allowed to move many of their favorite projects – traditionally called pork – to the top of the list without the normal bureaucratic scrutiny and screening usually accorded to massive public works projects, the BGA found.
Contacted on Tuesday, officials from the district that owns the airport said its proposed control tower would be accepted if the governor orders a new review.
“We are confident that the Governor will find few projects more important to the state and region than the traffic control tower project that will protect the safety of more than 100,000 takeoffs and landings each year, including the many aviation students from the University of Lewis,” said David Silverman, chairman of the port district that owns the airport.
He said he was concerned that a freeze in funds could harm ongoing work.
“The tower has been under construction for many months, is nearing completion, and will soon be staffed with air traffic controllers under the Federal Contract Tower program,” Silverman said. “Continuing funding at this stage will not only jeopardize public safety, but could also expose the Port District to financial consequences.”
Representatives of the other two listed projects could not be reached on Tuesday.
Williams said she would favor lifting the funding freeze for the four Madigan-sponsored projects if a Pritzker review deems them worthy.
Other lawmakers listed as signatories include:
Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn; Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Elmhurst; Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, D-Chicago; Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago; Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, D-Glenview; Representative Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook; Rep. Kathy Willis, D-Addison; and Representative Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville.
“The former president’s indictment has cast a shadow over the work of the General Assembly,” Rep. Costa Howard said. “And we have a duty to the people we serve to ensure that every Rebuild Illinois project will serve the interests of the taxpayers – not the insiders.”
Rep. LaPointe reiterated the point.
“In the interest of restoring trust and a fair allocation of resources, it is essential to freeze and review the projects led by our now indicted former speaker.”