By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn today called on the Illinois Senate to eliminate scholarships that lawmakers dole out and said a legislator accused of bribery should step down.
“It’s time for the Senate to act,” Quinn said when asked about a bill the House passed last week that would eliminate legislative scholarships. Quinn has twice tried to eliminate the program through amendatory vetoes, which have not been taken up by the legislature.
Quinn said that the money from the legislative scholarship — which have been the subject of controversy for years after some lawmakers have awarded them to the children of campaign contributors or politically connected families — should go into the Monetary Award Program. The MAP grants are awarded based on financial need. The program ran out of money for the year, so any students who applied after March 14 are not eligible for grants. “I really feel that it’s time for the Illinois Senate to step up and do what I’ve urged for two years in a row through the process of amendatory veto that the whole political scholarship program of the legislature be abolished,” Quinn said. “Especially in these times of austerity, where we saw last week the money that we have for needy college students, our monetary assistance program for needy students, all that money has been exhausted at the earliest time in, I think, Illinois history.” He urged Senate President John Cullerton to allow the House Bill 3810 to come up for a floor vote.
“It will get a hearing, and depending on the outcome, it will either move on or stay in committee,” Rikeesha Phelon, a spokeswoman for Cullerton, said in a written statement. “It will go through the normal legislative process.”
Supporters say that legislative scholarships ensure that some financial aid is spread equally throughout the state and argue that legislative tuition waivers are just a small portion of the total amount of waivers handed out by universities each year. General Revenue Fund dollars do not directly pay for tuition waivers, which are also handed out to veterans, graduate students and others, so universities must absorb the cost within their own budgets.
Due to the controversy surrounding the program, some lawmakers have stopped awarding the tuition waiver, and others hand the decision over to independents panels or local administrators.
“We’re working on it,” said Champaign Democratic Sen. Michael Frerichs, who sponsors HB 3810. “I’m very hopeful we’ll get it passed this year.”
Quinn also said today that he thinks Rep. Derrick Smith, a Chicago Democrat who was arrested on bribery charges earlier this month, should resign. “I really feel that Rep. Smith would do himself a favor by taking the advice of Secretary of State Jesse White and many many others and resign.” White backed Smith’s appointment to the House but has since called for him to step down. Smith, who was the subject of a federal sting, is accused of accepting a $7,000 for helping a day care get a grant. Investigators say Smith was unaware that the scenario was all part of the sting. Smith won the Democratic primary for the House 10th District with 77 percent of the vote last week. However, it is likely that party leaders hope to push him out of the race and appoint a replacement candidate.
An Illinois House Special Investigation Committee begins meeting tomorrow to decide whether the chamber should take up disciplinary action against Smith. The House could choose to reprimand, censure or expel Smith. “If he doesn’t resign, I think Rep. Smith should be aware that he may indeed be expelled,” Quinn said today. Smith did not return a call seeking comment.