Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has used his veto pen to abolish the state's controversial legislative scholarship program.
On Wednesday, Quinn used his powers of "amendatory veto" to rewrite a bill passed by both houses that would have reformed the scholarship program. Instead, he changed the bill to end the program completely. That new version will now return to the legislature, where it will need a simple majority of both houses, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The change comes on the heels of news that federal investigators are probing a former legislator's use of the program to give scholarships to four children of a major campaign donor.
Essentially, the "scholarships" are vouchers that allow their recipients to attend any state university without paying tuition. Legislators can hand them out to anyone living within their district, but the scandal-plagued program has often been manipulated to serve political purposes.
In the latest apparent scandal, which the Chicago Tribune first reported a year ago, former Representative Robert Molaro gave the four children of Phil Bruno scholarships with a total value of $94,000. Bruno, a real estate broker in suburban Oak Lawn, was a big donor to Molaro's campaign; it was also uncovered that his children did not appear to live in Molaro's district, the only legal criterion for receiving the scholarships.
Earlier this week, news surfaced that an investigation had launched into Molaro's actions, as a federal grand jury subpoenaed a number of documents related to the scholarships he gave out.
Against that backdrop, Governor Quinn decided it was time for the program to end.
"As I have repeatedly advocated in the past, college scholarships -- paid for by Illinois taxpayers -- should only go to those that have true financial need for them. I cannot in good conscience sign any legislation that continues to allow legislators to bestow this benefit on a select few," he wrote along with his veto, the Sun-Times reports.
How much legislative support he would receive wasn't entirely clear. When Quinn mentioned abolishing the scholarships in his annual budget address this year, he was vociferously booed by legislators, many of whom value the handout. A spokesperson for Senate President John Cullerton indicated to the Capitol Fax that he was opposed to the program's abolition, while a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan pointed out that the Speaker has supported nixing the program in the past.
But the sponsors of the measure to reform the program actually came around to Quinn's position. "In one day, the Legislature can stick the stake in the heart of this repeatedly abused program," Republican state senator Kirk Dillard said in the Tribune. And his fellow sponsor, state representative Robert Pritchard, expressed concerns that the state's universities, which are woefully underfunded, should be forced to foot the bill for the scholarships.
The measure will be taken up when legislators return to session in late October.
CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to clarify Speaker Madigan's position about the legislative scholarship program. He was previously described as "lukewarm" on abolishing the program.