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Madigan to kill Quinn’s plan to end controversial scholarship program

6-17-09 With Gov Quinn standing behind him State Representative Michael Madigan (D) speaks mediafter meeting with Gov. Quinn other state

6-17-09 With Gov Quinn standing behind him, State Representative Michael Madigan (D) speaks to the media after a meeting with the Gov. Quinn and other state leaders in the govs office. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times

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Updated: January 23, 2012 2:55AM

SPRINGFIELD — Citing constitutional concerns, House Speaker Michael Madigan intends to block Gov. Pat Quinn’s bid to kill the abuse-riddled legislative scholarship program during the upcoming fall veto session, a key legislative aide told the Chicago Sun-Times.

In August, Quinn rewrote legislation that had passed the Legislature that aimed to bar state lawmakers from awarding tuition waivers to relatives. With his amendatory veto, the governor moved for a second year in a row to outright abolish the program.

But Madigan believes that radically altering the scope of the bill as Quinn did amounts to a constitutional infringement of the state Legislature’s lawmaking authority, a top Madigan aide said.

“It’s not in compliance with the constitution as it relates to the use of the amendatory veto. That’s very clear,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said. “This is something the speaker has worked on for two decades in terms of keeping the coequal branches of government intact.”

Referring to Quinn, Brown said, “You can’t sit around in one little place, one office, and say, ‘Here’s what I think the legislation should be.’ You have to engage in the legislative process. You can’t decide in the summer this is the bill I want. That’s not the way it was designed. There are three equal branches of government, regardless of the topic.”

A Quinn aide said the governor is intent on getting rid of what one aide repeatedly characterized as the “political scholarship program.”

“Obviously the governor doesn’t agree,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said when told of Brown’s comments regarding the governor’s use of the amendatory veto.

“The issue here is reform and making sure that scholarships only go to those who merit them and are need based. Gov. Quinn has repeatedly advocated that college scholarships paid for by taxpayers of Illinois should go to only those in financial need, not to those with political connections,” she said. “This program is a disgrace.”

She said the governor intends to renew his call to lawmakers, including Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), to relinquish their own scholarships until an abolition bill can move through the General Assembly.

State Rep. Robert Pritchard (R-Hinckley), the sponsor of the bill that Quinn rewrote, also expressed disappointment at Madigan’s planned maneuver.

“The speaker has unprecedented authority. That’s all I’ll say on this,” said Pritchard, who indicated he does not intend to press for an override of Quinn’s amendatory veto, meaning the prohibition against legislative scholarships for lawmakers’ relatives also would die.

The speaker’s decision to deny a vote to accept Quinn’s amendatory veto comes at a time the legislative scholarship perk is facing heightened scrutiny from federal investigators.

In August, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that federal investigators subpoenaed records of all of the legislative scholarships awarded by lobbyist and former state Rep. Robert Molaro (D-Chicago).

Since then, questions have dogged other legislators, as well, including state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero) and state Rep. Daniel Burke (D-Chicago). The State Board of Education, which administers the tuition-waiver program, asked the FBI to probe the two lawmakers’ scholarships following disclosures in the Sun-Times.

In late August, the newspaper reported about five students with different last names listing the same home address in Sandoval’s districts to qualify for more than $65,000 worth of free college benefits awarded by Sandoval. Motor vehicle and voter registration records cast serious doubts about whether the students lived in the home owned by a paid Sandoval campaign aide.

Also that month, the Sun-Times and Better Government Association reported on a series of tuition waivers worth nearly $70,000 that Burke awarded to the daughter of a former legislative secretary.

The recipient of the Burke waivers listed a Downstate address as her permanent residence on her motor vehicle registration and admission application to Southern Illinois University, though the woman registered to vote and obtained a state identification card using an address in Burke’s district occupied by the elderly parents of his Chicago-based legislative secretary.

State law requires that legislative scholarship recipients live inside the awarding legislator’s district.

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