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State May Be Cutting Programs, But Not Promotions

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Illinois Department Of Public Health (Credit: CBS)

Illinois Department Of Public Health (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cheap trinkets are costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote the work of state agencies, while programs to help the needy are being cut.

As CBS 2’s Pam Zekman investigates, taxpayers are the ones who foot the bill.

The trinkets can be found everywhere.

At the Auto Show, we picked up a fake Secretary of State police badge.

At an event Illinois Department of Human Services, lipstick holders and coin cases with hotline numbers for victims of human trafficking were freebies grabbed up by two ladies.

We obtained state records that documented the purchase of thousands promotional items purchased in fiscal 2010 by state agencies, handouts that added up to more than $900,000.

We showed our findings to Jim Tobin the head of Taxpayers United of America, a taxpayer’s watchdog group.

“This sort of thing is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Tobin said. “It really is.”

The Department of Natural Resources spent more than $75,000. Fishing reels, pocket knives, and knife sharpeners were on their list. And 230,000 deer pins that cost $17,000. The pins are a favorite of hunters.

“If they want those pins so bad they should pay for them themselves,” Tobin said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health spent more than $146,745 for “stress ball relievers” and “cell phone condom holders” to promote safe sex.

“They’re really screwing the taxpayers by doing this sort of thing,” Tobin said.

The Illinois Department of Transportation was the biggest spender at more than $188,000.

But it’s safe driving message gets lost on some items—like a large plastic clip to hold papers. You can barely read it.

And on a key chain with large plastic lips, it says “Kiss it Goodbye,” with this in the fine print underneath, “Zero tolerance is the law in Illinois.”

Tobin pondered the meaning of the message. “That must be it. Zero tolerance for kissing. Brilliant!”

A law passed last August prohibits using general revenue funds to buy promotional items for two years. State officials say for now federal funds, licensing and permit fees pay for them.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from federal, state or local,” Tobin said. “Its a waste.”

It’s money that could be used to help agencies that are now threatened with huge budget cuts by the state.

John Voit estimates that Seguin Services, a not-for-profit agency he runs to help people with disabilities, may lose “anywhere from $600,000 to one million dollars,” from the proposed budget cuts.

“What that means is we have to cut services and we have to cut costs,” Voit said.

Seguin provides housing in community based homes and job training for participants like Olga Bach. Bach has cerebral palsy and says the working in Seguin’s nursey is both therapeutic and fulfilling.

“I love this program,” Bach said, and she wants it to continue.

A law passed last August prohibits using general revenue funds to buy promotional items for two years. State officials say for now federal funds, licensing and permit fees pay for them.

None of agencies would show us all of the promotional items they have purchased. And their spokespersons declined our requests for on camera interviews. But in written statements they defended the expenditures saying they help promote Illinois’ businesses, tourism and needed outreach programs.

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