We reported last week about a taxpayer-paid program that allows Illinois lawmakers to get coloring books, book marks and other printed freebies with their names on them to distribute as they like.
The program is not new. But the kicker was that more than 140 legislators had used the $2 million program since July 1, which is when the new fiscal year began without a state budget in place.
So, while state programs serving the elderly, disabled and poor are being cut back or eliminated because of the months-long fight between Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly, lawmakers were still handing out promotional material paid for with tax dollars.
Among those named in the article about the spending was state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton. She ordered 500 coloring books in August and September.
She didn't like the story.
"This is just ridiculous. How dare you? You should be ashamed of yourself," Ives told me in a phone conversation last week. "You are so misguided on what you're focusing on. You're incredible. Incredible."
She says there are many other examples of waste in state government, including the current structure of the General Assembly, in which lawmakers who chair committees receive $10,000 annual stipends even if those committees rarely meet.
Nonetheless, I asked her if she thought it was hypocritical for her to charge taxpayers for promotional coloring books at a time when the state doesn't have a budget.
"Not at all," Ives said.
"Go back and rewrite your article, sir. Because you know where some of those coloring books ended up at? At my kids' Catholic school. That's right. I sent them to a Catholic school. The teachers were thrilled to have this book that portrayed Illinois and some facts about it in an interesting and engaging way. So why don't you go and print that, too," Ives said.
Plus, she said she returned $12,000 of her district office budget to the state last year because she didn't charge taxpayers for furniture or other office needs. And, she added she doesn't take a state pension and hasn't put her family of seven on state-paid health insurance.
"I mean give me a break, sir," she said.
Ives said she's considering introducing legislation that would give individual lawmakers the ability to take any money they don't spend on their district offices and funnel it to another governmental unit in their district.
"If the park district needs a special project done for disabled kids and I want to donate my extra $12,000 to it, I get to say it goes there. That's what I'm going to do, ’cause, dammit, everybody else is spending their entire amount of money on you don't know what," Ives said. "How about that?"
All that said, I asked her if she would support legislation that would stop the presses and bring an end to the coloring books.
"Sure. Sure. I support legislation," Ives said.
We'll keep you posted.
Barickman for Rubio
State Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, has lined up behind U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in the GOP presidential sweepstakes.
In a release issued last week, Barickman invited voters to sign his petitions to put him on the March primary ballot as a delegate for the Florida Republican in Illinois' 18th Congressional District.
“It's not easy to get candidates on the ballot in Illinois, so we need all the help we can get to make sure Illinois voters have the opportunity to vote in support of Sen. Rubio in March” Barickman said.
His backing of Rubio comes as Barickman's leader in the Senate, Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, is chairing Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential campaign in Illinois. Also on board with Kasich is former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady, a former McLean County resident.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar is supporting Jeb Bush. Former House Minority Leader Tom Cross, an unsuccessful candidate for state treasurer in 2014, also is in the Bush camp.
Other Illinois Republicans are waiting for the big field to thin out before staking a claim to one of the GOP candidates.
State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, who is Pat Brady's cousin, said the field is going to narrow down soon. At that point he will decide whom he's going to support in the March primary.