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Political Rewind: Lawmaker Indicted; Illinois Debt Hitting Crisis Level

It's always good to be caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened this week.

Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.

SPRINGFIELD — A state representative was indicted on a federal bribery charge, officials in Washington, D.C., addressed Illinois' fiscal troubles, and warmer weather means road construction is under way from Chicago to Cairo.

Rep. Derrick Smith indicted on bribery charge

A federal grand jury indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, on a single federal bribery charge.

Smith is accused of accepting $7,000 in exchange for writing a letter of support for a day care center he thought was seeking a $50,000 Early Childhood Construction Grant through the state's Capital Development Board. Federal authorities set up the fictional day care.

Tuesday’s indictment revealed no new information about the charges against Smith. Federal authorities began investigating him after receiving a tip from a campaign worker.

Smith still is able to perform his duties as a state representative. Numerous lawmakers and state officials have called for his resignation.

State Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Mount Sterling, sits on a special House committee appointed to investigate the allegations against Smith. She said he could see disciplinary action from the House, as well.

“Just because he was indicted doesn’t mean we won’t have any disciplinary actions. He could still face removal from the office by recommendation of the committee,” she said.

Debt reports: Looking at Illinois’ fiscal troubles

Republican U.S. congressmen representing Illinois weighed in on the state’s debt crisis, and a local think tank said the state could save money on health-care costs for retired public employees.

U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk on Wednesday released the “Illinois Debt Report.

“Illinois cannot afford to continue on its current path,” Hultgren said in a news release. “And Washington will not bail the state out.”

The report shows Illinois is on track to end the current fiscal year with a $508 million operating deficit.

Illinois has struggled to pay for government services on time, the report notes, and the current backlog of bills is approaching $6 billion. The report estimates Illinois’ unfunded liabilities, especially skyrocketing pension costs, could reach $139 billion by 2030.

Health-care costs for retired government employees contribute to that debt, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, a libertarian think tank.

report by the Illinois Policy Institute estimates the state could save $500 million during the next fiscal year if government retirees paid a little more than half of their own health-care costs. Retired state workers and state university employees pay about 9 percent of the cost, while retired K-12 teachers pay about 40 percent.

Outbreak of orange: Road construction resumes

It’s a typical scene: Winter ends, and orange cones begin to line Illinois roadways. State transportation officials said the agency is benefiting from the warmer weather this past winter.

“We were able to start smaller projects, like patchwork and filling potholes, much earlier," said Josh Kauffman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Transportation, or IDOT. “Larger projects rely on the schedule of the contractor, but if they wanted to start earlier because of the nice weather they could,” he said.

IDOT uses the Proposed Highway Improvement Project ­­— a multi-year plan stretching from fiscal 2012 to fiscal 2017 — to manage road projects and construction funds. The program has a $11.5 billion budget for all years. Using state and federal funds, Illinois will spend about $3 billion during fiscal 2012.

A total of 768 miles and 248 state and local bridges will be improved during 2012. About 60 safety and traffic locations will be repaired — from modernizing signals to fixing signs.

Cook County not accepting registrations from cottage food vendors

A new state law makes it easier for vendors who want to sell homemade breads, pies, jellies and other treats at a farmers' market, as long as they register with the local government and label the products as uncertified.

But the Cook County Department of Public Health isn’t taking registrations, citing a portion of the Illinois Food Entrepreneur and Cottage Food Operations Act that says any unit of local government can oversee the registrations, not just health departments.

The department wants the state’s attorney to determine if vendors can register with one of the 100-plus municipalities and towns within the county.

Ten vendor registration applications have been turned down by the Cook County department so far.

— Stephanie Fryer

Ernie Knight April 16, 2012 at 01:57 PM
The problem is not that the public pension systems are unsustainable. The problem is that the widepsread CORRUPTION of the public pension systems are unsustainable. Politicians raiding pension funds, adding dirty secret ways to draw pensions to which they (politicians) are not entitled, widespread inflation of retiring employees pay to artificially increase pensions as a form of bonus, etc. Weed out the corruption and the system works. Don't punish the public employees for the crooked actions of politicians. Incidentally those "bloated" pensions were intended to make up for the sacrifices of those public employees. Teachers, firefighters and police officers have not been paid on a competitive basis with the public sector in the past. Pension was one way to compensate. Of course you could cut those pensions (if it weren't unconstitutional) . . . and see the caliber of service you get then.
Tony April 16, 2012 at 02:01 PM
The State may have to consider bankruptsy to solve their problems, it worked for GM. GM is no able to once again pay all their CEO's millions in bonuses, American Airlines is trying to do the same thing,I have read of towns and citys in America trying to file bankruptsy, why not. If people would take a look at the pensions that some of our supposed to be retired politicians are getting and the medical benefits they also get , it would make you sick. All you ever hear about are the Police, the Firemen, the Teachers. They make nothing compared to the POLITICIANS, if you want to burn somebody at the stake go after the right person.
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Police Officers and Firemen pay 9.5 % of their yearly salary into the pension plans for at least 30 + years and they don't have social security ! Like I said before its not their fault the pension plans are flawed! My wife works in the private sector and after working for two companies she will receive two pensions, 401's , and profit sharing and will make just as much money as a retired Police Officer and Firemen who actually put their lives on the line everyday to protect us! So that's reason they deserve their pensions !
Tim April 16, 2012 at 05:22 PM
they put their life on the line every day? Good for them, they also volunteered for the job. They weren't drafted. They don't 'deserve' anything. You don't see a problem with TWO jobs in the private sector paying out the same as ONE job in the public sector? Yes, it is your fault the pension plans are flawed. Deal with it. IF you even think of asking the taxpayers to bail you out, you better think again.
Madeleine Levine April 16, 2012 at 05:37 PM
There should be a Committee for Taxpayers present at all cozy Union-Politician negotiations. TAXPAYERS MUST GET OFF THEIR DUFFS AND START A PETITION OR REFERENDUM. A FULL PAGE AD IN THE TRIBUNE WOULD GARNER SUPPORT INITIALLY.The present arrangement of Union-Politician negotiation is simply a matter of mutual collusion with the absent taxpayers left paying the damages.One hand is washing the other and I believe the Mayor is terrified of the Unions. After Wisconsin.his reform ardor has cooled noticeably and he has become an ardent supporter of Union graft. Public- Private huge spending plans now underway naturally will result in cost over-runs &further bankrupt the over-burdened taxpayers to enrich Unions. HOW DARE THEY CONTINUE HUGE SPENDING WHEN WE HAVE MASSIVE DEBTS. The Committee representing taxpayers should be present at all negotiations and exempt the taxpayers from all cost over-runs. According to the Tribune, teachers are paying 2% for their medical, an insult.The Taxpayer Committee should have double the vote as we have to actually pay for Union-Politician unadultered graft. Are there any wealthy Illinoisians who could start a petition or referendum. We cannot just sit around and complain as they are organiZed and have no conscience about assaulting the taxpayer who does not know how to organize and are too busy working for a living. WE CANNOT GIVE UP. A FULL PAGE AD IN THE TRIBUNE, ETC. WOULD GARNER TREMENDOUS SUPPORT AND WE COULD BE IN CHARGE OF OWN FATE.
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Unions are strong and always prevail!
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Tim you talk garbage ! "Good for them"! Trying doing their job and you would quit after a week! How do they not deserve anything?? Please elaborate! Also learn the pension code and laws and you will see its not the fault of the Police or firemen! Learn before you speak and spew nonsense from your mouth! Like the Police and firemen earn big hugh salaries! Not! Tim its your fault you didn't get a job that pays a pension! So deal with it! One other thing if pensions go broke the town or city and State has to still pay their pensions! So buckle up for tax increases!
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 07:30 PM
People that dont know squat about pension plans and the constitution involving pension codes should learn something about them before leaving foolish comments!
Jim Smith April 16, 2012 at 07:40 PM
John Moreli said: "Unions are strong and always prevail!" In one sense, that is correct, because unions have been strong enough to destroy many American jobs, businesses, and even entire industries via excessive demands, creating conflict between labor and management, protection of of the incompetent, etc.. However, in the larger sense, if unions were so strong and always prevailed then why has union membership plummeted from a high of 20% to the current level of 11.8% of workers? Public sector union membership (37%) is holding steady or increasing while private sector membership (6.9%) continues to decrease. The reason for that is basically because unions put their employer companies out of business. However, with public sector jobs, the employers can't be put out of business not matter how inefficient the union makes things. Stats: www.bls. gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf (remove the blank between dot and gov)
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 08:02 PM
True some unions have shrunk in the private sector ,because companies are leaving the US and going to other countries to have the work done by child labor and poor working conditions and lower cost! But now a lot of companies are starting to come back and you will see unions grow again ! Do you know workers at private sector companies In Illinois can join a union and the company can not stop them from unionizing! That's why the Governor of Wisconsin is being recalled because of his union busting bill ,which will be overturned by a new Govenor !
Tom Koz April 16, 2012 at 08:18 PM
John, if unions are sooooo good why not make it voluntary? Why are employees forced to join a union and pay dues to the union bosses and Democratic machine if they want to work at a certain company??? WHY, because IF it was voluntary the unions would be GONE within 2 years. THAT is why the unions are trying, but will not succeed, in having Walker voted out. The common citizens are becoming more and more educated, and more and more sick of unions breaking companies and forcing businesses overseas. Why couldn't Boeing open a new plant in a right to work state ?? Unions and the demoncratic party!! Unions SUCK !
Tom April 16, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Amen Tom, Obama will lose this state come November and state by state will revamp the pension system ,and union creepling wages that drive our tax's,food,gas, home values ,toll's,insurance cost's to go way up.Go Scott Walker and the rest of the governor's to put in place voter id laws that will prevail. Hello a fresh start and rebuiling our great country come Nov 6.
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Tim you think unions suck because you don't belong to one and it appears you don't have a pension plan! No ones fault but yours. Do you know what happens without a union and a right to work State? They can walk up to you anytime without just cause or an explanation and fire you and there's nothing you can do about it. One reason to have a union and legal rights fought for.
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 09:00 PM
The State Constitition is safe for another 8 years thus protecting down state pensions for Police and Fire. 8 years from now the Consitution will be voted down once again based on some votes over the years! Article XIV requires that Illinois voters be asked at least every 20 years if they desire a constitutional convention.[7] In 1988 the measure failed 900,109 votes for and 2,727,144 against the measure. 1,069,939 other voters chose neither option.[8] In 2008, the measure was also defeated by a wide margin,[9] 1,493,203 votes for and 3,062,724 against from a total of 5,539,172 votes cast. 983,245 voters chose neither option.[10]
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Tim put up or shut up and prove your facts that it was the fault of the Police and Fire downstate pensions.
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Tom please learn something about downstate pensions! To fund them has nothing to do with toll increases,food, gas or home values! Its based on a slight tax increases on your property tax! That's all our responsibility to pay for the service/benifits of having Police and Fire protection, which they are not obligated to provide us.!
Tom Koz April 16, 2012 at 09:28 PM
John, I used to be in a union (not by choice) when I was much much younger. My 17 year old boys were forced to join a union when they went to work for Jewel part-time. They had to pay $100 initiation fee (not by choice) to the union, and they also must pay 50 cents per hour (not by choice) to the union for each of the 14 hours they work per week. JOHN, you never answered my question. If unions are soooo good WHY is it not voluntary?? John, the unions care NOTHING about the rank and file members. Wise up. It is all about collecting dues and having/keeping POWER!!! You think the union bosses care about you?? Try this... Tell your top union boss that you are a couple thousand $$ short this month ... See if HE gives it to you!!! Open you're eyes John!! Oh, and by the way, my retirement is self funded and I am/will be doing just fine. No Thanks to you, any union, or the government (read "taxpayer")
John Moreli April 16, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Tom I was a union member for 25 + years and they did good or shall I say great for me in wages, insurance,workers rights/conditions and legal protection. If one doesn't join the union and others do , it's called fair share and they still have to pay into the union! No one should benefit from the union and others if they don't want to join, thus the voluntary choice of not joining the union.
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 12:19 AM
John Moreli said: "Tom please learn something about downstate pensions! To fund them has nothing to do with toll increases,food, gas or home values! Its based on a slight tax increases on your property tax! " Uh my state income tax bill went up almost exactly 100% this year, due to the 67% income tax increase and to reductions in credits/deductions and because we earned slightly more in 2011 than we did in 2010. A 100% increase is hardly trivial. My property tax is over $10k/yr - and has risen about 40% in the last eight years. Cry me a river.
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 12:23 AM
John Moreli said: "Do you know workers at private sector companies In Illinois can join a union and the company can not stop them from unionizing! That's why the Governor of Wisconsin is being recalled because of his union busting bill ,which will be overturned by a new Govenor !" Walker did nothing to affect the unionization of private sector. He did restrict the collective bargaining rights of some public employees, which I think is a great thing. The problem with unions in the public sector is that they employ so many people they can affect the outcome of an election which means they can force the rest of us to pay them more than we want to. Basically they are voting themselves raises and benefits which the rest of us are forced to fund. When a union forces a private company to raise benefits and wages too high, then that private company goes out of business and is replaced by a more efficient and more competitive business. That's just not true with government agencies that are inefficient or too costly - they just keep raising the taxes. We have no choice but to pay, unlike with a private company, where we can vote with our dollars.
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 12:29 AM
John Moreli said: "Tim you think unions suck because you don't belong to one and it appears you don't have a pension plan! No ones fault but yours. " Are you kidding me? I would NEVER take a job that required me to join a union. Once when I was much younger I scabbed at company. Union thugs shot and killed one of their members who decided to cross the picket line. They did that in front of his wife and five daughters in their living room. The union pigs were incredibly racist and would take out their worst acts on blacks and Hispanics. They used to assault us when we'd go to/from work. They'd follow us home. One my brothers was management at a company that had trucks. When the teamsters struck, he had to go out and drive. Union thugs pulled up in front of him and fired a high powered rifle out the back of their pickup truck into his engine block. I detest unions and union members for what they have done to America.
John Moreli April 17, 2012 at 12:37 AM
Like I said Downstate Police and Fire pensions only come into play with your property tax! Nothing more, nothing less ! Your other increases are due to the Illinois politicians pension plans along with teachers, State Police and other State jobs that have pensions! Do you know who the downstate pension are for?
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Apparently none of the pro-union posters can answer this simple question: "When pension payouts exceed what the participants contributed (plus contributions from the employer as well as earnings on investments made by the pension manager), then that pension is unsustainable. Do you agree or disagree? Possibly you can explain how a pension could be sustainable when it pays out more than it takes in."
John Moreli April 17, 2012 at 12:43 AM
Jim you can't compare teamster unions and other mob influenced unions to Police and Fire Unions! That's like comparing apples and oranges !
Amber April 17, 2012 at 12:57 AM
I was also in the union at Jewel and we NEVER paid a $100 initiation fee! We also did not pay 50 cents per hour for each of the 14 hours. The union backed us up more times than I can count! Our union rep always came into the store(s) to ask how things were. When called he came out ASAP, usually the next day, sometimes the same day! And even though he didn't have to come on holidays, if we called with a serious problem he came anyway! The union that represents Jewel is a great union. Especially at a company like Jewel, where over the past several years they have tried to push and get rid of employees out out work. The union keeps them from getting fired for a stupid reason. It also guarantees them seniority, hours, and other benefits. They CAN opt out if they request to in writing but they lose the benefits....and when Jewel is in a slow period than they would be guaranteed nothing, meaning the manager could not schedule them at all or for only 2 hours or could fire them just because!
John Moreli April 17, 2012 at 01:01 AM
The reason that Police and Fire pensions are under funded now is because of the economy and the funds work off investments just like 401's, deferred compensation plans and other self retirement funds! A lot of Police and Fire pension plans are usually 75-100 % funded when the economy is good! Then another and must important reason some of the pension plans are underfunded too, is because Towns ,Cities ,Villages and the State do not put their share into the pension plan year after year like that are supposed to do per pension code and also borrow money from the pensions and fail to replenish the funds! So its not the fault of the Police and Fire that pensions are so underfunded now!
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 01:16 AM
John Moreli, can't you answer a simple question?
John Moreli April 17, 2012 at 01:48 AM
Do you know the size of each Police and Fire Dept. that participates in the pension plan? Do you know what is being paid in and what's payed out? How many active Police officers and Firemen are paying into the plan yearly and how many are retired and what the offset is on each Dept. ? Example. If a Police Dept. currently has 120 Officers each paying 9.5% of their salaries into the pension plan yearly,with the Town matching contributions and then there are 15-20 retired Officers from the Dept., the pension plan can sustain the retired officers salary.
John Moreli April 17, 2012 at 02:40 AM
Jim Smith I think the reason we are are disagreeing on the pensions is because the Illinois State pension system is completely different from the downstate pension system for local Police and Fire! Yes I agree the State pension system is screwed up and has a short fall of billions of dollars, but it has no effect on downstate pensions.
Jim Smith April 17, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Tony said: "GM is no able to once again pay all their CEO's millions in bonuses" Tony, GM has ONE CEO. (to the moderator who deleted a similar comment, what is wrong with asking that)

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