Reprinted from the Illinois News Network:
Bills to limit taxpayer-funded trips, conferences die in committee as spending continues
By Cole Lauterbach and Brett Rowland
In 2017, local officials spent hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on trips to a convention in Chicago. Many returned to the conference again this year, with some even spending more than last year. Meanwhile, legislation that would have stopped the practice will die this month without having been called for a hearing.
Documents obtained by Illinois News Network from two dozen local cities and towns show local mayors and trustees went to the Illinois Municipal League’s annual conference in September, spending tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds on $300-a-night hotel stays, valet parking and Chicago dining.
When the 100th session of the General Assembly ends this month, bills that would have kept officials from spending public money on these trips will die without ever moving out of the House Rules Committee.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-West Dundee, said these local officials wield influence with state lawmakers in Springfield, making any law that limits their perks difficult to pass.
“They have taxpayer-funded lobbyists that come to Springfield and lobby against common-sense reforms like this,” he said.
Those who attend the conferences defend the trips, saying they’re educational. Skillicorn is skeptical.
“If they’re so educational, why are the same local officials going back to these conferences year after year?” he said.
The city that spent the most of 25 towns reviewed by Illinois News Network was Bourbonnais. Taxpayers there picked up the $15,233.32 tab for 11 village employees and elected officials to attend the conference, which was held in the Hilton Chicago hotel and featured keynote speaker Bo Jackson, the retired football and baseball All-Star. Bourbonnais taxpayers paid $8,000 for hotel rooms and $2,330 in food. Parking for the trip set taxpayers back $1,430.
After INN highlighted the spending practices of several towns in 2017, some were more frugal in 2018. In Quincy, officials spent $17,800 to attend the 2017 conference. In 2018, the city spent $4,715.10.
The change was even more dramatic in Lake in the Hills, a far northwestern suburb of Chicago.
In 2017, village officials there paid more than $11,000 for the conference.
In 2018, the village’s total was $1,030.18.
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Last January Skillicorn focused attention of Municipal League conference costs:
He asked Lake in the Hills officials to reimburse taxpayers for $11,071.50 spent in Chicago.