Governor Pat Quinn has shuffled millions of dollars into a re-branded version of his failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and appears to be accelerating the pace of handouts as the election nears.
State spending records show $5 million in funds that were supposed to have gone state-wide to help at-risk youth have been shifted to programs in Chicago that are virtual clones of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI), including several to the same contractors whose misuse of funds from the previous program sparked multiple criminal investigations.
“This looks and smells just like the original NRI, and in fact, millions are being sent to many of the same agencies that were implicated in the Auditor General’s scathing audit,” said State Senator Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington). “And just like the original NRI, millions of dollars are being thrown around right before the election.”
The shift in taxpayer funds occurred despite repeated assurances from Quinn that he shut down the NRI program in 2012. During a one-week period in September, Quinn pumped an additional $400,000 into just one entity – the Chicago Area Project. The Chicago Area Project is already under investigation for its hiring of the husband of Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown. The $400,000 brought the total handed to the group to over $1 million, less than six weeks before the election.
“The more money Gov. Quinn sends to Chicago as part of his election year slush fund, the less money is directed to valuable organizations that perform important functions in communities across Illinois—organizations that depend on every last dime they receive,” said State Senator Dale Righter (R-Mattoon). “We’ve seen this pattern before: the Governor pumps millions of dollars into a Chicago-centric program in the weeks leading up to the November election. Enough is enough.”
The $5 million was appropriated for Comprehensive Community-Based Youth Services (CCBYS). The goals of the CCBYS program are to provide comprehensive and community-based individualized services to at-risk youth and their families to achieve family stabilization and reunification, thereby diverting or minimizing youth contact with the juvenile justice and/or child welfare systems. CCBYS providers are located throughout the entire state of Illinois.
“We should do more to help kids and stop violence around the state. However, Governor Quinn has chosen to take money out of these programs so that he can send it to politically connected groups in Chicago,” said Senator Barickman. “It's frustrating to inform our local providers that their budgets are being cut so that Governor Quinn can increase funding to some of the same deficient providers who were identified in the NRI audit, including one group that owes the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
State Senator Darin LaHood (R-Peoria), a former federal prosecutor, said, “Recent actions taken by the Quinn administration certainly appear to be another attempt by the Governor to use taxpayer dollars to benefit his own political aspirations. The spending shift calls for further investigation and raises more concerns about the legitimacy and transparency of the Governor’s office.”
In February, Illinois Auditor General Bill Holland released a scathing audit on the first two years of NRI. It found that the program was hastily implemented just before the 2010 gubernatorial election, that Chicago aldermen influenced what agencies received the nearly $55 million, and that the entire program lacked proper oversight.
At least three grand jury subpoenas have been filed on the program, two from US Attorney’s offices in Chicago and Springfield, as well as from the Cook County State’s Attorney.
The bi-partisan, bi-cameral Legislative Audit Commission (LAC) has been reviewing the Holland’s audit as well, but members are waiting until October to hear witness testimony so as not to interfere with the federal criminal investigation(s).