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Cullerton Does About-Face, Calls For Abolishing Legislative Scholarships

State Senate President John Cullerton

State Senate President John Cullerton (Credit: CBS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has done an about face, and now recommends abolishing state scholarships awarded by state lawmakers.

As WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports, Cullerton had first wanted reform of the legislative scholarship program. But he has now says he will support a bill to end the program, with due concern for current holders of scholarships awarded by lawmakers to residents in state colleges and universities.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports

“Quite frankly, we should probably look to see if there’s not a better way to make sure that these children who’ve been receiving these scholarships in a fair way across the state can be reinstated in some way, not by legislators giving them out, but perhaps by some other entity,” Cullerton said.

As the measure now stands, each legislator can award four-year waivers for state university tuition to two students or divide them among up to eight students.

But critics have charged the scholarships has been used as gifts to children of political supporters.

Better Government Association executive director Andy Shaw said in January that an investigation by his organization found more than 90 cases in the last five years of legislators misusing the program as political payback.

The BGA in January launched a petition to abolish the program.

“In theory, scholarships are for deserving young people,” the petition says. “In reality, Illinois lawmakers dole out tens of thousands of dollars to children or relatives of their buddies, political allies or campaign workers.”

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.

The State House voted 79-25 to abolish the program in March. But the legislation has been held up in the Senate, and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) last month accused Democratic leadership of trying to stall the issue.