Chicago Tribune Editorial, “Use it or Lose it” College of DuPage email exposes the chase for tax dollars
USE IT OR LOSE IT
College of DuPage Email exposes the chase for tax dollars
Read original editorial here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-college-of-dupage-0707-20140707,0,3341001.story
July 7, 2014
Credit Gov. Pat Quinn for putting a stop last week to a seedy little money grab by officials at the College of DuPage. Before this episode heads to the dust bin, it’s worth a few minutes to examine what it says about the use and abuse of tax dollars.
The DuPage community college wanted to get $20 million that had been appropriated by the state several years ago, but never released.
Big problem: The money had been targeted for projects that the school had already completed.
The school wasn’t sure now how it would spend the money.
But it really wanted it.
On May 9 College of DuPage President Robert Breuder sent an email to his board members. Quinn was going to be on campus a week later to deliver the college’s commencement address. What a prime opportunity to press the governor for money, Breuder wrote. He wanted to thank Quinn “for his commitment in front of 3,500 people.”
“I needed to identify a project that would help release our state funding,” Breuder wrote to his board. “My idea: a Teaching and Learning Center.
“Several Board members want to weigh in on the need for such a facility. I have no problem with that; however, not being able to say how we would use the state’s money (perhaps no real need) could lessen our chances to break the money loose at this time (the political moon is rising). A building that focuses on teaching and learning is politically attractive; more so than let’s say a student center, PE facility, etc.”
Breuder wrote, “My having to dance around the issue of how we would use the money attenuates our ask.”
More: “There is always the option of telling the Governor we want the money, will bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then build something.”
“Perhaps no real need.” “Politically attractive.” “Dance around.” You get the drift.
Adam Andrzejewski, founder of the transparency-in-government group For The Good of Illinois, got a copy of the Breuder email through a Freedom of Information Act request. Andrzejewski, a DuPage County resident, was looking for information about the college’s finances. He has questioned the college’s spending habits.
Apparently for good reason.
The school has been renovating its campus, adding elaborate kitchen labs and restaurants for its hospitality programs. It even built a boutique hotel. Some taxpayers have questioned how much use those facilities will get, particularly when online college courses are expanding. To manage it all, the college board has raised its property tax levy and refinanced some of its debt. It holds nearly $150 million in a rainy day fund.
Last month, the college board voted to approve a new classroom building, without setting specifications or a firm price tag, anticipating it could lure the $20 million from the state.
“Taxpayers deserve better than a ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculation,” Kathy Hamilton, the board vice chairman, and only member who voted against the project, told us.
The state money is not coming, thanks to the exposure of Breuder’s email. Quinn’s office said last week it won’t allow the college to submit for the cash. (Too bad the governor didn’t apply such strict scrutiny to the millions doled out in his anti-violence Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, now the subject of several investigations.)
The Breuder email exposes a practice that’s common in government spending: “Use it or lose it.” The practice is enhanced by the politicians’ desire to curry favor before an election.
Breuder put it succinctly in his email: “The limited state dollars for capital projects will go somewhere in this heightened political season. Why not College of DuPage?”
To Read the Rest of the Chicago Tribune Editorial click here: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/editorials/ct-college-of-dupage-0707-20140707,0,3341001.story
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