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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

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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