Editorial: Paying twice for conference asks too much of taxpayers
With all the money suburban governments spent to attend the Illinois Municipal League conference in Chicago, it might seem like small potatoes to look at what the state government spent to exhibit there.
While 50 suburbs spent $119,432 to send delegations to the three-day event in September, the tab for exhibitors from six state government agencies plus the Pace suburban bus system amounted to $10,000.
Those seven agencies turned in expense vouchers that lacked colorful excesses like the Smith & Wollensky steak dinners charged to taxpayers by Hanover Park officials or the cocktails expensed by Addison officials -- though we do wonder about the overnight Chicago Hilton stays covered by some state agencies that have offices a mile away from the hotel.
We mention the state tab for the IML conference because we were struck by the circular system that has taxpayers paying for the state to exhibit at the conference and taxpayers paying for local officials to attend. Taxpayers even pay a portion of the operating costs of the IML itself, through dues the lobbying group collects from municipalities.
The IML conference, as described by staff writer Jake Griffin in his series "On Your Dime," has about 130 exhibitors that are not taxpayer funded, and their spending is their own concern. We recognize the value of professional development, as we've said previously.
But don't forget Illinois' $9.8 billion backlog of unpaid bills, resulting from years without a state budget. Penny pinching by state agencies is appropriate as long as businesses, health care providers and social services are going unpaid. In response to Griffin's series, Republican state Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills is vowing to pursue legislation that would curb spending by state agencies at conferences.
One IML conference bill that rankles is from the Illinois Department of Revenue, which spent the most among the public agencies at $1,840.60 for exhibition space and hotel rooms.
The revenue department lobbied for and convinced the legislature over the summer to allow it to keep a 2 percent "processing fee" for collecting and dispersing sales tax to towns and the Regional Transportation Authority. That will take $47.7 million from 64 suburbs, Cook and the five collar counties, and the RTA by the end of the fiscal year and is cited as the reason for tax and fee increases and service cuts across the suburbs.
The department said along with covering administrative costs it would use the money to modify and maintain its computer system.
Now, $1,840.60 is puny compared to that multimillion-dollar windfall. But we still wish the agency would use its updated computer system for its marketing efforts and skip the $298-per-night stays at the Hilton.