Local Government

State Rep. David McSweeney bill cracks down on government meal, travel expenses

Illinois bill seeks to rein in spending of local government officials, employees

Local government officials and employees would have a harder time traveling and dining on the taxpayers’ dime under a bill filed by a McHenry County lawmaker.

House Bill 4379, filed last week by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, seeks to limit the amount of money school districts and non-home-rule governments can spend on travel, meals and lodging.

It will require said governments to regulate reimbursement by resolution or ordinance, set maximum limits and better document expenses through a standardized form. Spending taxpayer money on entertainment would be forbidden under the proposed law.

McSweeney said no one incident prompted him to file the bill, but rather a steady flow of stories from media and the Better Government Association about local governments racking up questionable expenses as taxpayers struggle under one of the nation’s highest property tax burdens.

Eliminating unnecessary or frivolous costs is a small but important step in bringing the tax burden down, he said.

“I think we can all agree taxpayers should not be footing the bill for local government officials to see movies, concerts or live theater shows,” McSweeney said.

Minimum documentation for reimbursement that would have to be submitted under the proposed bill includes the applicant’s name and job title, and either receipts or estimates if the travel has not yet taken place.

McSweeney’s bill also mandates approval has to be done by a roll-call vote at an open meeting, and explicitly states said expenses are public documents under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

High-profile questionable expenses in recent years include the Chicago Transit Authority spending more than $60,000 since 2010 to send people to places such as Hawaii and Las Vegas for pension-related conferences, and a one-school district on Chicago’s South Side spending at least $65,000 to send board members and staff to nationwide conferences.

The bill has not yet been assigned to a committee. House members were supposed to convene this week for the start of the spring legislative session, but Speaker Michael Madigan canceled the session until Jan. 27, when Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to give the State of the State Address. Illinois is now in its seventh month without a budget.

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