Taxpayers Foot Bill for Public Officials’ Parking Perks

An NBC Chicago & Better Government Association Report

Several highly-paid state employees are allowed to park their personal cars every day in downtown Loop garages, and taxpayers are footing the bill, according to a new investigation by NBC Chicago and the Better Government Association.

Not only are taxpayers paying. They're very likely paying too much.

NBC Chicago and the B.G.A. originally looked into taxpayer-funded parking in February of 2012. That investigation revealed that employees of Chicago and Cook County were parking their personal cars on the taxpayers’ dime, to the tune of nearly $1 million each year. .

The focus now is on the state of Illinois, where draconian budget cuts would seem to beg the question of why some state officials -- most of whom make six-figure salaries -- are not assuming the basic costs of their personal parking.

"This isn’t the private sector," said Andy Shaw, the B.G.A.’s President and CEO. "These are our tax dollars, and they need to be spent on us, the public, not the public official."

NBC Chicago and the B.G.A. asked each state agency for its parking expenses for garages in downtown Chicago and found that Illinois taxpayers have been charged a total of $38,340.08 since January of 2012 for parking spaces for the personal cars of executives from such offices as the Illinois Department of Revenue, the Illinois Lottery, the Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Commerce Commission and the Capital Development Board, among others.

That’s on top of more than $534,000.00 paid during the same time period for all state parking in downtown garages, including parking for state fleet vehicles and for workers and officials who are required to use their cars on a regular basis.

For example, the Office of the Illinois Attorney General reserves eight spaces for employees at a garage at 177 North Wells Street. The attorney general’s chief of staff, Ann Spillane, said the spaces are necessary because the employees are often asked to use their cars for work.
But those spaces each cost $230.00 a month, and Spillane admitted to being "frustrated by the cost of parking." She pledged that the office will seek lower rates when the office’s parking contract expires in June.

But just down the street at a garage at 203 North LaSalle Street, state parking spots are currently going for a little more than $99.00 a month The difference is that the Illinois Department of Central Management Services brokered a master contract for a significantly-discounted parking rate for several state agencies -- but not all.

In addition to the premium prices paid by the attorney general's office, the Illinois Secretary of State pays premium, $200-plus rates for each of its 23 department vehicles.

NBC Chicago and the B.G.A. found that if those agencies and others would simply broker a rate similar to that negotiated by CMS, taxpayers could save an estimated $151,116.00 a year.

"Why not put it in the hands of one agency to negotiate for all of them simultaneously?" said the B.G.A.'s Shaw. "You could cut the cost, and you could cut the bureaucratic overhead, because there'd be fewer people doing it." 

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