It's difficult to put a price on clout, but the Madison County Transit District sure is trying.
It has hired former U.S. representative Jerry Costello as a consultant. And so begins Costello's quest to parlay his years of public service into big, personal paydays.
As a story on the front page today outlines, the transit district is paying Costello $7,000 a month -- $84,000 a year. For what, exactly? We have no idea. The contract has few specifics other than the dollar amount. The topics Costello will address, the amount of time he will put in and the support people he will hire are all left to Costello's discretion. You can read the contract at bnd.com.
This is just one example. Since 2002, local governments have spent at least $2.7 million on consultants and lobbyists. The Madison and St. Clair County transit districts are the biggest spenders.
Madison County Transit District Director Jerry Kane said Costello is worth every penny because with tax dollars in such short supply today, he gives a project an edge in getting funding. But deciding public spending based on political clout rather than individual merit is a big part of what's broken about our government.
It's outrageous to have one layer of government spend tax dollars to grease the skids with another. Metro-east taxpayers are already paying people to represent the interests of the transit district and other entities: U.S. Reps. John Shimkus and Bill Enyart.
If Shimkus and Enyart can't make the case for a local project, then maybe it doesn't deserve to be funded.