CHICAGO | Gov. Pat Quinn announced Tuesday that he's suspended funding for future renovations at the state Capitol, blasting the project's architect for extravagant renovations that have already prompted criticism of Quinn's leadership and caused embarrassment for financially shaky Illinois.
"We don't need to have the Palace of Versailles at our state Capitol," Quinn told reporters. The Capitol architect "needs to be reigned in by the legislative commission that he reports to."
The renovations at the Capitol have been ongoing for years, largely to update and improve safety at the National Historic Landmark. But parts of the recent $50 million upgrades on the building's west wing — including $670,000 for copper-plated wooden doors and more than $323,000 for chandeliers — have been in the spotlight, prompting anger and finger-pointing by lawmakers and 2014 candidates.
Quinn called the expenditures "excessive flourishes" and told reporters after an unrelated event in Chicago that future plans by Capitol architect J. Richard Alsop III would have to be reviewed before funding would be restored. Alsop, who's defended his work in the past, didn't return messages from The Associated Press Tuesday.
The state has already spent the $50 million, including work to replace ventilation systems in the west wing; the building's south wing was finished years ago. Quinn's action would halt renovations to the north and east parts of the building, though no plans for those have been formalized.
The issue of lavish spending — particularly on the building at the heart of Illinois politics — has hit a nerve as the state falters with ways to address its public pension system, the worst-funded in the nation, and billions in unpaid bills. Lawmakers and candidates seeking office, including those challenging Quinn next year, have wasted no time in assigning blame.
Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, Quinn's only Democratic challenger, said Tuesday that the issue is an indication that Quinn's leadership in Illinois isn't effective.
"The governor is not up to the job of governing this state," Daley told reporters.
State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a GOP gubernatorial candidate, called Tuesday for an audit of the expenditures.
The renovations were paid for by a $31 billion capital construction program approved by the General Assembly, something Quinn has claimed as a signature achievement of his tenure. The individual projects overseen by the architect had to be approved by the Office of the Capitol Architect Board, which includes representatives designated by each of the four legislative leaders. The state agency involved, the Capital Development Board, certified contractors and made sure that projects met building and accessibility codes, among other things.
Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said that the project went through the state's usual bidding and procurement process.
He said the idea was to make the construction and work on the historically important building as close as possible to the original. He said Alsop has done a "terrific job overall" and that Quinn's Tuesday actions are the result of antics heading into an election year.
"The governor's involved in a difficult campaign and he decided to have a Sunday morning press conference on a Tuesday afternoon," Brown said, referring to Quinn's tradition started in his activist days of holding news conferences on Sundays, typically slow news days. "He's entitled to an opinion."