Capitol renovation controversy in local state

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Reporter - Kendall Downing

CARBONDALE, Ill. - Call it a Capitol controversy. Illinois Governor Pat Quinn froze funding Tuesday for future renovations at the state's Capitol building in Springfield.

That's after criticism over how the cash-strapped state spent $50 million set aside for the remodel. Last week we learned Illinois spent nearly $670,000 on three sets of copper-plated double doors for the West Wing. The more than $320,000 spent on chandeliers is also drawing criticism.

The doors are shiny and infamous.

"This sort of comedy of errors just seems to always be happening at the capitol," said Eddie Caumiant, Regional Director for AFSCME Council 31.

Caumiant said given the state's $100 billion dollar pension crisis, copper doors aren't on the wish list of his people, instead it's their under-funded pensions.

"Our members are angry, and they will continue to be angry. And these types of things bring those feelings in high relief," said Caumiant.

Dr. John Jackson with SIU-Carbondale's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute said people need to understand where the money for the doors and other improvements came from.

He doesn't think the controversy should last.

"It's not a big deal, and it won't last very long," he said.

Lawmakers and the governor signed off on a statewide construction project in 2009 to build roads and buildings across Illinois and spruce up the Capitol.

The only limitation for the Capitol architect was to not go over his budget. The governor's office said they didn't know the specifics of the spending.

"The Capitol architect only has to go through the Capitol Development Board for bidding. He does not have to seek approval for expenses like $700,000 doors and tens of thousands of dollars spent on chandeliers," said Dave Blanchette, Spokesperson for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Jackson said this is symbolic politics and another sign that perception may mean more than reality.

"It's easy enough to see why people get up in arms and why political leaders want to make a production out of something like this because it just looks wrong," he said.

Quinn's office said most of the $50 million for renovations has already been spent. The freeze applies to future projects in the Capitol complex. 

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