I cover the “daily greed” of national, state, and local politics.
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
It’s been two years since Illinois state government had a full-year budget. Now, more than 70,000 vendors are owed $8.2 billion. Yet, despite the legislative deadlock and seemingly fiscal insolvency, more than $50 billion in state payments flowed to providers and other entities in FY2016.
So, who actually got paid and for how much while others waited in the long line of unpaid bills?
Recently, our organization at American Transparency (website: OpenTheBooks.com) filed our annual Freedom of Information Act request with Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger (R) for the state’s checkbook payments. Here’s what we found: 56,738 recipients received fast-tracked payments of $50,125,427,171.
We plotted the recipients by ZIP code – review your neighborhood or look across the entire country. Just zoom-in, click a ZIP code pin, and scroll down to see the results rendered in the chart below the map.
The top 25 accounts paid by the Comptroller received $21.8 billion. The vast majority of the payments were for social safety-net healthcare providers ($5.9 billion); the Teachers Retirement System pension payment ($3.224 billion); Cook County ($2.7 billion); Chicago Board of Education ($2.1 billion); Regional Transportation Authority ($1.7 billion); and transfer payments to the state treasurer or banks.
Here are some of the entities receiving the large state payments in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016:
- Road contractors and construction companies ($1.4 billion) – 45 companies received more than $1 million. Here’s the top five: Plote Construction Inc. ($300.4 million); Lorig Construction Company ($225.4 million); Walsh Construction Co. ($151.9 million); D Construction Inc. ($147.5 million); and E T Simonds Construction Co. ($61.98 million).
- Cities and Villages ($6 billion) – Chicago received $1.7 billion. But even the uber-wealthy North Shore communities received tens of millions of dollars: Highland Park ($20.4 million); Wilmette ($9.3 million); Glencoe ($3.4 million); Lake Forest ($7.2 million); and Kenilworth ($421,200). My hometown of Hinsdale in DuPage County received $7.5 million.
- Counties ($4.3 billion) – Here are the top five: Cook County ($2.7 billion); DuPage County ($183.9 million); Lake County ($132.4 million); Will County ($98.5 million); and Kane County ($70.6 million).
Over the past two years, we’ve seen a patchwork of state budget stop-gap spending measures, federal and state court ordered disbursements, and the prioritization of state payments from the growing list of unpaid vendors.
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Yet, even in a fiscal crisis, the state isn’t embracing basic spending reforms.
For example, in 2016, Comptroller Leslie Munger continued to pay a lobbyist $50,000 out of her own budget. More than $370,000 in payments flowed to lobbyist Shea, Paige and Rogal since 2009 (a key executive is the chairman emeritus of the IL Republican Party) even though state agencies are barred by law from contracting with lobbyists. So, how is this legal?
Since 2005, $178.1 million in taxpayer funds flowed through J. Walter Thompson (JWT), one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. Last year, JWT got $1.049 million from the Illinois Tourism Board. Why is the state wasting any money on Public Relations?
While unpaid social service providers sue the state, what is the compelling public purpose to pay paving contractors to spread a little more asphalt on the roads that may not be in need of vital repairs? Vendors with the word “paving” or “asphalt” in their names received payments of $260 million in FY2016.
Last summer, at Forbes, I wrote about Comptroller Munger’s refusal to pay vendors serving our most vulnerable citizens – the developmentally disabled. She wrongly claimed a lack of constitutional authority until a federal judge threatened her with contempt-of-court. Now we find Munger paid $9.4 million to Planned Parenthood over two years – including payments for abortions.
Over the past two years, Munger also fast-tracked $1.7 million in payments to refugee relocation firms. While Governor Bruce Rauner stopped additional refugees from Syria, World Relief Refugee Services – one of 10 organizations contracted with the U.S. Department of State to resettle refugees into Illinois – helped relocate approximately 1,200 refugees from countries like Iraq, Sudan, Congo and Myanmar (Burma).
Despite a two-year budget stand-off, taxpayer dollars continue to flow to insiders…
The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) already employs 1,133 civil engineers and 1,155 engineering techs. So why did Illinois pay millions of dollars over the last two-years to civil engineering firms like ESI Consultants ($3.7 million) and other firms at huge hourly rates?
The Illinois credit ranking is the lowest of all 50 states. But, the public patronage machine rolls on.
IDOT is the historic haven of Illinois political patronage. Today, August 31st, Munger cut $4.1 million of “performance bonus” checks to 1,320 IDOT employees – members of the Teamsters. That’s a handout, not a performance bonus, when one of every two eligible IDOT employees qualifies for a first time ever pay enhancement. To see the list, click here.
Last spring, I documented 50,000 state and local public employees making $100,000+ costing taxpayers $8 billion annually. Currently, there are 7,500 school administrators and teachers with $100,000+ pensions – a number we forecast to increase to 20,000 by 2022.
At the Illinois State Fair on Republican Day 2016, Comptroller Leslie Munger flunked an impromptu math quiz by the Chicago Tribune. She wrongly answered two of three problems – missing 9×3 and 8×7 – then blamed the “hot weather.”
But, excuses are not going to cut it. Transparency and regular reporting will hold their feet to the fire. In Illinois politics, for the new governor and comptroller, the honeymoon with voters is over. The People want real results and are sick and tired of paying the “corruption tax.”
The Chicago machine had 12 years of iron-clad control and succeeded in making Illinois a net-outward migration state, but for the good of Illinois, this crew – from the opposite party – must quickly do much better.
Adam Andrzejewski is CEO of OpenTheBooks.com – the world’s largest private database of government spending with 3 billion captured public expenditures at the Federal, State and local levels across America.