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Bill To Abolish Legislative Scholarships Now On Quinn’s Desk

Illinois State Capitol

Illinois State Capitol buillding in Springfield (AP Photo)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Illinois lawmakers voting to repeal the controversial legislative scholarship program hope the free rides are over once and for all.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports, the Illinois House of Representatives voted 79-32 Monday to approve a bill abolishing the program. The House received the bill on May 3, after it was approved by the state Senate.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports

The bill now goes to Gov. Pat Quinn, who has been quoted in published reports as saying he will sign it.

Some of the giveaways have gone to politically-connected families. But defenders say the program really does not burden state universities.

“There’s a lot of people in this chamber who have taught on the collegiate level. I have,” said state Rep. Al Riley (D-Hazel Crest.) “And essentially, it’s a few more papers to grade.”

But Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) disagrees.

“It’s not that simple,” he said. “If you give $14 million out in free waivers, those universities, and the taxpayers, have to make up the difference.”

The legislative scholarship program allows each state lawmaker to 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 measure to abolish the program includes a provision for a task force to study all tuition waivers, including those for children of faculty and staff at state universities. Virtually none of those discounts have generated the controversy the legislative program has.