CHICAGO (CBS) -- The Better Government Association has set up an online petition to eliminate the state's legislative scholarship program, with state Rep. Robert Rita (D-Blue Island) now accused of granting a scholarship to a political ally's daughter.
As WBBM Newsradio's Brandis Friedman reports, Andy Shaw, executive director of the BGA, says the legislative scholarship program is beyond repair and should be closed entirely.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Brandis Friedman reports
"Illinois taxpayers are coughing up $15 million a year for these scholarships, Shaw said.
Under the program, each lawmaker is allowed by law to award up to eight one-year scholarships to a state university every year to students in their districts.
Shaw says a BGA investigation found more than 90 cases in the last five years of legislators misusing the program as political payback.
The most recent example, he says, is Rita, giving a full scholarship to the University of Illinois to the daughter of Chicago Ald. Anthony Beale (9th.)
"What we're saying is there's a district full of needy individuals – taxpayers – who ought to have a right to those scholarships," Shaw said.
Shaw's comments are echoed in the petition.
"In theory, scholarships are for deserving young people," it says. "In reality, Illinois lawmakers dole out tens of thousands of dollars to children or relatives of their buddies, political allies or campaign workers."
Rep. Rita responded to his scholarship controversy with a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times. He said to deny Beale's daughter the scholarship because her father is an alderman would be tantamount to discriminating against the promising African-American scholar.
As it is, more and more lawmakers are already deciding not to award them any longer due to increasing scrutiny of the program.
Last year, lawmakers tried reforming the program through legislation. But Gov. Pat Quinn refused to sign the bill, and instead tried to abolish the program with an amendatory veto.
In so doing, the governor ended up running against Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who believed Quinn was violating the Illinois Constitution. Madigan himself has voted previously to do away with the program.
A new measure to do away with the program, H.B. 3901, is now pending in committee in the state House of Representatives.
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