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 last 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 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.
A 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