Illinois budget loaded with "pork"? - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Illinois budget loaded with "pork"?

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WSIL -- The new 638-page Illinois budget provides much-needed relief for schools and social services, who've found themselves operating on shoe-string budgets for the last two years. But a closer look reveals plenty of so-called "pork", which government watchdog groups describe as money lawmakers set aside for pet projects.

Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars go to pay for projects, which those watchdogs say seem nice, but are unnecessary, especially at a time the state finds itself in a financial mess, with credit rating agencies threatening to lower the state to "junk status."

"Illinois has a debt crisis and these lawmakers are filling the budget with pork," said Michael Lucci of the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative-leaning non profit think tank that tracks what it calls government waste.

The "pork projects" include $15 million for a new train station in Chicago; $10 million for a new campus at a suburban junior college and $875,000 to remodel a greenhouse. 

Smaller amounts of so-called "pork" include $130,000 for SIU's student newspaper; $200,000 to research mosquitoes and $285,000 to teach kids how to fish. 

Neither political party has a lock on providing money for pet projects.

Last month, lawmakers like State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, an outspoken critic of government waste, criticized a spending plan Republican party leaders put forward because it contained dozens of capital projects he considered "wasteful spending." 

Lucci said all of the money geared toward these projects should remain with taxpayers or be used to address the state's debt.

"They're ignoring our crisis and they're sending money on to unnecessary projects," said Lucci. "I mean, they're just porking this thing up and all along they're raising our taxes."

Before House lawmakers voted to override the governor's vetoes, some lawmakers called the budget "junk" and said it failed to adequately address the state's debt.

But Speaker Mike Madigan said while no one got exactly what they wanted from the bill, every citizen in Illinois will benefit from it.

"Today, Republicans and Democrats stood together to enact a bipartisan, balanced budget and end a destructive, 736 day impasse," said Madigan. "I want to thank you all for your perseverance through this unbelievable struggle."

Organizations who receive money others label as "pork" often argue the money is necessary to help them maintain a certain level of service.

Millions will also go to pay for projects across southern Illinois, including upgrades to mental health clinics in Chester and Anna and to the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg.

News 3 requested additional information from state officials about the projects, but did not receive a response.

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