Illinois taxpayers deserve to know why the state wasted $55 million on a Chicago neighborhood violence reduction program.
That's the bottom line of a lot of political-wrangling that's going on these days. Federal and Cook County prosecutors are investigating the details of Gov. Pat Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative and will determine if there are any criminal avenues to pursue.
But whether laws were broken, there are a lot of questions swirling around the 2010 program.
It was a few weeks before the 2010 election when Quinn announced his program at a press conference surrounded by church ministers and Congressman Bobby Rush. The program was designed to address the issues of violence in many Chicago neighborhoods.
But a scathing state audit last year said the program was poorly implemented and poorly managed to the point where it was impossible to tell if any results had been achieved. Republicans have accused Quinn, who narrowly won the 2010 election, of using the money to solidify votes in the Chicago area. Quinn has said none of the money was spent before the election, although the Chicago Sun-Times has reported attempts to pay groups participating in the program took place ahead of the election. There are stories nearly every day about the program's issues and the ties to the Quinn administration.
This week, the Legislative Audit Commission took the unusual step of issuing subpoenas for former state officials who worked for Quinn. The subpoenas mean these officials will be compelled to testify at two days of hearings in July in front of the commission, which last issued subpoenas in the early 1980s.
As with anything in this election year, politics are a factor. Republican candidate Bruce Rauner has made the program a central part of his campaign, while Democrats have been trying to downplay the program's problems. The stakes are high since the Quinn-Rauner match-up is expected to be one of the most expensive and close governor races in the nation.
Despite the politics, taxpayers deserve some answers. "We're charged with finding out not only what happened but how it happened ... to make sure a failure of this magnitude doesn't happen again," said Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington and commission co-chairman.
What we already know about this program is troubling. Illinois voters — which have a too-high tolerance for ethical and legal lapses by officials — should question how a cash-strapped state could so callously waste $55 million. Quinn and his administration needs to supply some answers.