Around Illinois – June 6

Jun 6, 2012
  • House panel says Smith can be disciplined
  • Patient safety survey grades Sterling hospital “A”
  • Retired Illinois teachers got $900 million COLA bump
  • S&P weighs another Illinois ratings downgrade

House panel says Smith can be disciplined

A legislative committee says there's enough evidence for the Illinois House to punish indicted State Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.

He's facing federal charges of allegedly accepting a $7,000 bribe.

The House committee released its recommendation today, saying there were "reasonable grounds" to discipline Smith.

Smith's attorney had argued his client is innocent until proven guilty, and asked legislators to wait for the case to play out in federal court.

But Rep. Dennis Reboletti, R-Elmhurst, says the committee gathered enough information to justify the move forward.

"It's fair to say that our unanimous decision is based off a thorough review of all the evidence, of all the testimony, of all the exhibits,” Reboletti said, “and that waiting any longer was not going to change the decision."

It's now up to a new committee to choose whether to reprimand, censure, or expel Smith ... or to take no action. Smith says he won't resign from the House because he's not guilty.

Smith, who was appointed to his current seat and won his Democratic primary election in March, is still on the general election ballot. Chicago Democrats formed a new party so they can run a candidate against him.

Survey: Sterling hospital among best in patient safety

CGH Medical Center in Sterling has received a grade of A in a new survey of hospital patient safety that rates more than 100 institutions in Illinois.

All three Rockford hospitals received grades of B, as did FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport and Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru.

Kishwaukee Community Hospital in DeKalb and KSB Hospital in Dixon, along with both major Elgin hospitals, were graded C.

The survey by Leapfrog Group of Washington, D.C., grades hospitals on their overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable harm and medical errors. Grades are based on expert analysis of 26 evidence-based measures of hospital safety using publicly available data.

Crain’s Chicago Business reported that Loretto Hospital and Norwegian American Hospital were among seven hospitals that did not receive passing grades.

Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Loyola Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Maywood and the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System were among the 30 medical centers statewide that received barely passing grades.

Leapfrog Group is a non-profit organization representing large corporations and public agencies that buy health benefits for employees. It was founded in 2000 by Business Roundtable, a Washington, D.C., association of CEOs.

The ratings do not include specialty hospitals, such as those that treat children.

Cost-of-living boost is 21.3% of benefit cost for teachers

The constitutionally guaranteed 3 percent annual cost-of-living increase for retired Illinois teachers amounted to a collective $900 million above their original pension benefits in 2011 – an average of $8,885 for each of the 101,288 former educators from around the state.

Officials from the Illinois Teachers' Retirement System told the Daily Herald that these “cost-of-living adjustments” amounted to 21.3 percent of the $4.2 billion total teacher retirement benefits, up from 18 percent of the total teacher pension payout five years ago.

The fact that the COLA increases are compounded annually creates a secondary boost that significantly adds to the cost, many legislators have complained.

“The fact that one benefit can cost over one-fifth of the entire plan indicates how significant the current (cost-of-living adjustment) problem is,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat who was a member of Gov. Pat Quinn's pension reform team. “If you retired in 1995 with a $65,000 pension, you'd be getting more than $100,000 today. That's the miracle of compounding.”

Bipartisan support in the legislature for cutting yearly increases in pension benefits for working and retired teachers, as well as other public sector employees, is providing some common ground on the divisive issue.

“Fixing the cost-of-living increases is the biggest component of any pension reform,” said state Rep. Darlene Senger, a Naperville Republican who was also a member of Quinn's pension reform team. “A large part of the problem is due to the compounding.”

Quinn is scheduled to meet with legislative leaders this week to begin the process of resolving the pension problem.

Illinois may face another debt downgrade

The lack of action on Illinois pensions and questions about the fiscal 2013 budget approved by the legislature prompted ratings firm Standard & Poor's to issue a new warning Wednesday of possible future action.

“In addition to assessing the revenue forecast relative to the current economic climate, including specific plans for revenue enhancement,” the statement said, “Standard & Poor's will also focus on implementation risk associated with planned spending reductions and Medicaid as well as other reform initiatives.”

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said it will assess the state's progress on revenues and expenditures to evaluate the budget. The company also said it considers the state’s failure to pass

pension reform “negative from a credit standpoint.”

Despite the significant increase in Illinois Income Tax and revenue recovery, the statement noted, structural budget balance has been elusive and liquidity remains strained due to the state's growing accumulated deficit.

S&P expects to resolve the outlook on Illinois this year.

Earlier this year, Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan sued Standard & Poor’s over its high ratings for risky mortgage-backed securities.