A metro-east lawmaker says it's "pretty ironic" that Gov. Pat Quinn is calling on legislators to pass a law aimed at cutting fraud and waste in state grant programs.
Rep. Dwight Kay, a Glen Carbon Republican, says the Democratic governor urging passage of the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act is like a bank robber proclaiming there ought to be a law against robbing banks.
"It's pretty ironic. But you know, if you just got caught handing out $55 million in grants during an election year, and it turns out the money was a political slush fund, and now you've got the U.S. attorney and the Cook County state's attorney looking into it, this would seem to me like the thing to do in another election year -- to divert attention," Kay said.
On Friday, it was reported that federal prosecutors are investigating Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a $55 million anti-violence grant program that he launched in September 2010 for Cook County, while locked in a tight race for governor. A state audit found that Chicago aldermen and other politicians decided which agencies should get grant money, instead of a more objective procedure. The audit also found numerous problems with spending and record-keeping.
Quinn on Monday urged legislators to pass the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act, which is House Bill 3820. It would enact stronger rules on the disclosure of conflicts of interest, and create "real-time auditing" of state grants.
"It is imperative that all grantees in Illinois have strict oversight and are always held accountable for their work," Quinn said. "That's why I am working to pass House Bill 3820 this legislative session that will reform grant procedures and strengthen oversight to make state grantees more accountable than ever."
The bill's co-sponsors include Kay.
"The idea is not a bad idea. Grant money is abused to a large extent," Kay said.
But he said Quinn is only "trying to make some political cover for himself" by supporting the legislation.
"This doesn't surprise me," Kay said. "Whenever something egregious happens with taxpayer money, the next thing that happens is, these guys come up with something and say, 'Look! I fixed what I just did!'"
During weekend appearances on Chicago television news programs, Quinn took credit for spotting problems with the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and stopping it.
"I saw problems in the Neighborhood Recovery Program to fight violence, and we shut it down, and abolished the agency which was overseeing it," Quinn said. "I think it's important to fight violence, but there were problems, and my job as governor is to identify the problems, get to the root of them and straighten it out."
Republicans say Quinn used the grant program to brace up his support in Cook County -- one of only four counties that Quinn carried in the election.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson on Monday said the claim that Quinn used the program to win votes is "100 percent false."
"Not one single payment was issued to any grantees until at least 16 days after the election," Anderson said.