Local Government

Gov. Bruce Rauner signs David McSweeney bill to curb government travel expenses

Public officials who travel to do the taxpayers’ work are going to face a lot more restrictions when it comes to asking them to pick up the tab.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill into law that aims to crack down on government officials dining and traveling at taxpayer expense. The bill, filed by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, limits the amount of money that nonhome-rule governments can spend on travel, meals and lodging, and outright bans spending on entertainment expenses.

McSweeney said Tuesday that he was very satisfied that Rauner signed his House Bill 4379 into law. McSweeney filed the bill in January in response to a number of reports from media and watchdog groups highlighting questionable or lavish expenses by local officials.

“This means, hopefully, lower property taxes, because we need to reduce wasteful local government spending,” McSweeney said.

The new law, which took effect with Rauner’s signature, requires local governments to draft ordinances that define acceptable expenses and set maximum limits. Governments also must create a standardized form to document travel, meal and lodging expenses, and the forms can be obtained by the public under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Expenses incurred by elected officials must be approved by a vote in an open meeting, as will expenses racked up by rank-and-file government employees that exceed whatever maximum limit the public body sets.

House Bill 4379 cleared both the House and Senate without a single opposing vote. It was carried in the Senate by state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who has been an outspoken critic of the spending practices of ousted College of DuPage President Robert Breuder.

While Breuder’s expenses, which included his membership in a shooting club and the food and alcohol tab at the college’s former French restaurant, made national headlines, the college is just one of a number of Illinois government bodies that have asked taxpayers to pick up questionable checks.

One of the latest examples is in Matteson School District 159, where the school board voted to turn in member’s district-issued credit cards after records showed that school officials and current and former board members have spent close to $150,000 in the past four years on meetings, cross-country travel and Coach purses for retiring staff, according to reports.

Other high-profile expenses include the Chicago Transit Authority spending more than $600,000 since 2010 to send people to Hawaii and Las Vegas for pension-related conferences, and an impoverished one-school district on Chicago’s South Side spending at least $65,000 on travel for board members and staff.

Charges put on the township-issued credit card of the highway commissioner in Naperville Township in recent years included sausages and beer from a supermarket, a $300 Italian restaurant bill and lunch at Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, a restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses.

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