Pritzker freezes state funding for Madigan-sponsored Rebuild Illinois projects
Nine Democratic legislators had asked the governor for the freeze, citing an investigation by the Better Government Association published by the Sun-Times in January.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker is freezing tens of millions of dollars in state funding for four projects sponsored by indicted former Speaker Michael J. Madigan in the aftermath of his corruption indictment.
The freeze, announced Tuesday, came at the request of nine Democratic state representatives.
In a letter Monday to Pritzker, the lawmakers cited an investigation by the Better Government Association published by the Chicago Sun-Times in January that found at least $144 million went to the four projects earmarked for state funding by Madigan as part of a 2019 infrastructure measure called Rebuild Illinois.
Each of those Madigan-sponsored projects — among nearly $4 billion in so-called pork-barrel funding inserted in the $45 billion legislation — benefited people with ties to the former speaker.
The legislators said in their letter to Pritzker that the indictment accusing Madigan of using his official position to enrich himself and others raises new questions about the Rebuild Illinois spending.
“Although some of the funding for these projects may have already been allocated,” the letter says, “we request another layer of review to determine whether they were an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.”
The group was led by state Rep. Ann M. Williams, D-Chicago, who unsuccessfully challenged Madigan last year to become speaker.
The representatives who signed the letter were among the 19 whose votes helped deny Madigan another term as speaker amid the corruption investigation.
“Everything that is tied to Madigan is called into question,” Williams said Tuesday. “We owe it to the taxpayers to carefully scrutinize these projects.”
Among the four projects the legislators cited was a $98 million noise-abatement project at the Belt Railway yards, where screeching train brakes have interrupted the sleep of people staying nearby at hotels in Bedford Park. Hotel owners Jon Weglarz and Mark Weglarz have been clients of Madigan’s Madigan & Getzendanner law firm, which handles property tax appeals.
The legislators noted in their letter to Pritzker that the BGA and Sun-Times report said Weglarz brothers “said they never requested the funding.”
The Weglarz brothers said Tuesday in an email in response to questions: “We were not involved in the grant application nor even aware of it. This decision and process is up to state officials, IDOT and the village of Bedford Park.”
Chris Steinway, Belt Railway’s general counsel, said it “did not request any funds from the state of Illinois, nor were we the intended recipient.”
The lawmakers also asked Pritzker to freeze payments pending a review of three other projects cited in the January story. Those included $31 million for the Academy for Global Citizenship, $9 million for John Hancock College Preparatory High School and $6 million to build a control tower at Lewis University Airport in Romeoville.
All were sponsored by Madigan and supported by political allies or lobbyists with ties to him.
“We are confident that the governor will find few other projects more important to the state and the region than the Traffic Control Tower Project, which will protect the safety of over 100,000 takeoffs and landings every year, including the many aviation students at Lewis University,” said David Silverman, chairman of the port district that owns the airport.
Representatives of the two other projects could not be reached Tuesday.