Wheeler voices opposition to spending funds on government website translation
State Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) is at a loss anytime he hears one of his colleagues talk about spending more money, especially when it's for something the state can get for free.
Rep. Robert Martwick (D-Chicago) recently proposed to spend up to $1.5 million to have the state government's website translated into Spanish. Within minutes of hearing this, Wheeler, who also runs a small IT company, showed the proponents of the measure how the site's text could be converted into as many as 40 languages using free, publicly-available products.
“I think we as state and House would be better served by collaborating with one another before putting forth any form of legislation, especially seven-figure deals at a time when the state is already tens of billions in debt,” Wheeler said. “But that’s just not the way things are typically done around here.”
“I’ve been here for nearly two years and we’ve never had a true budget, so how can we be committing ourselves to spending anything when nothing’s been allocated and we don’t know when it will be or what it will look like whenever it happens,” he told the Will County Gazette.
Martwick countered that, “When we start talking about things we need to spend money on, this is the right thing to spend money on," according to an Illinois News Network report.
The Democratic lawmaker appealed to his colleagues by invoking the difficulties his family of Polish natives had when trying to engage with state government. But as Martwick spoke, Wheeler used online tools to convert Martwick’s proposed bill into Polish and explained that “it just took a click” for Google Translate, a free service, to do the job.
Wheeler was backed by Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield). “We have a solution that does it for every language that is free," he said, according to Illinois News Network, and wondered, "Why are we upset about that? I have no idea why we are against a great, free, bipartisan solution."
The bill was ultimately pulled after it became clear that it did not have the support needed to pass through the House.
According to the 2010 Census, 23 percent of Illinoisans speak something other than English in the home and 6.2 percent said they don’t speak English at all.
Among the states already known to be using Google Translate for their websites is California, where it’s used to translate English into more than 100 different languages on the state’s website free of charge.