Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has suggested that making recreational marijuana legal will be one of the first things he accomplishes after his inauguration in January. As long as he's in the mindset of low-hanging political fruit, we encourage him to take on another very different but very important priority. This one he can manage virtually without the involvement of the legislature, and it can directly and immediate improve both the quality of Illinois government and its reputation:
The tollway, managed by a board of supervisors appointed by the governor, has long been criticized as a body with too much patronage and too little responsiveness to the hundreds of thousands of us who travel its roadways every day. The tollway's defenders are not helped by the types of activities our transportation expert Marni Pyke has uncovered.
These include a $157 million contract that went to a company that has contributed to two board members' charities and employs the daughter of the tollway board chairman; the hiring of the Republican House minority leader's sister-in-law for an engineering management position even though she had no engineering experience; hiring three public relations companies for various projects despite having its own in-house PR team; and including among those three deals a $6.6 million subcontract with a communications company whose CEO is married to a GOP Chicago lawmaker.
Tollway leaders suggest each of these cases is isolated by specific circumstances, and they repeated them at a state Senate hearing in Chicago last summer. What they don't seem to understand is that at some point an accumulation of isolated circumstances adds up to a trend. And the trend that appears to be developing here is that Republican political connections helped get jobs and contracts for those doing business with a tollway board put in place by a Republican governor.
The absolute worst response that could follow is that a year from now Pyke finds herself reporting on how Democratic political connections are helping get jobs and contracts for those doing business with a tollway board put in place by a Democratic governor.
Democrat Pritzker is in a position to end such a cycle. On Thursday, we'll offer some ideas for specific actions the new governor can take. But first, he, like the folks at the tollway, must acknowledge the problem and commit to a new perception that values transparency and restores the public's faith in agencies that act on behalf of Illinois government.