An Illinois newspaper reports that former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich skimmed millions of dollars off his state’s motor fuel taxes fund to pay for his health care program. According to one local businessman whose company, United Science Industries, removed leaking underground storage tanks for the state, Illinois owes him nearly $20 million for tank cleanup work already performed. But the money isn’t there.
“I feel very strongly that dedicated funds should be left alone so they can serve the purpose they were meant to serve,” John Cavaletto (R-Salem) told the House Government Committee, according to a report in the Mt. Vernon Register-News.
“Here we have honest, hard working people doing a service for our state in cleaning up dangerous leaking storage tanks and the State of Illinois refuses to honor its obligations. Something needs to be done to ensure that these people are getting paid for the work they do on behalf of the state.”
According to the Register-News, Cavaletto’s documents indicated that more than $54 million has been siphoned from the Leaking Underground Storage Tank fund since 2003, the year that Rod Blagojevich became the 40th governor of Illinois.
Jay Koch, owner of United Science Industries, had the opportunity to confront Blagojevich in November of last year. Blagojevich promised Koch reimbursements, but shortly after the encounter, the governor was arrested and booted from office.
“It’s forced me to take on their debt,” Koch told the Register-News. “The state has forced their debts onto the balance sheet of business and small business. It’s very disheartening. Unlike a private party, who, if they fail to pay you, you have some recourse against. The way our state system is set up, we don’t have any recourse against the state. We’re forced to sit on the side and deal with whatever they throw at you. They don’t have to play by the same rules they set up for everyone else,” Koch said in the Register-News report.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 17,188 leaking underground storage tank cleanups have been completed in Illinois. However, nearly 7,000 known leaking tanks remain in the backlog awaiting cleanup.
If Illinois has spent all its LUST funds for other purposes, where will it get the money to remove the tanks that continue to pollute the surrounding soil and water? Assuming Koch’s company can stay afloat in all of the state’s bad debt, he may find some relief with the passage of a new Illinois state bill that amends the Environmental Protection Act and would prohibit the sweeping of money from one state fund to another. While the bill wouldn’t necessarily replenish funds already moved and spent or make Illinois current on payments, it could spell much future work for United Science Industries. Also, a protected LUST fund would in turn protect Illinois residents and wildlife from exposure to environmental toxins.