Associated Press: Cook Co. leader urges governor to stick to March 1 deadline as hospital talks stall

Chicago Coalition for the Homeless is a partner in the Fair Care Coalition

By CARLA K. JOHNSON, AP Medical Writer

7:23 p.m. CST, February 29, 2012

CHICAGO (AP) — With hospitals and consumer groups failing to find a compromise, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn faced pressure to stick to his Thursday deadline and authorize rulings that could strip some nonprofit health care institutions of valuable tax exemptions.

Negotiations between hospital leaders and consumer advocates ended Wednesday afternoon in Springfield without a common framework or standard for hospital property tax exemptions, said Illinois Hospital Association spokesman Danny Chun. He described the two-hour meeting as “productive and cordial.” The hospital group wants the talks to continue, Chun said.

But others say the discussions, which Quinn orchestrated, have failed and they prodded him to act. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle pressed Quinn to direct the Department of Revenue to resume Thursday considering whether hospitals should be granted or denied tax-exempt status based on a 2010 Illinois Supreme Court ruling.

A consumer coalition also is calling on Quinn to authorize more rulings on the tax-exempt status of hospitals. The Fair Care Coalition accused the Illinois Hospital Association of “foot-dragging” during talks. The coalition plans to demonstrate outside a Chicago hotel Thursday where hospital trustees will be taking part in a breakfast meeting.

Preckwinkle sent a letter to the governor Wednesday, noting that talks had so far failed to find a legislative compromise. The letter was distributed to news organizations Wednesday afternoon while the last-chance negotiation meeting was still under way in Springfield.

Quinn spokeswoman Brie Callahan said the governor’s office would announce “next steps” Thursday. Five months ago, the governor set the March 1 deadline and halted the Department of Revenue from issuing rulings on hospital tax exemptions.

In Illinois, counties collect property taxes, and the Department of Revenue decides which institutions are eligible for tax exemptions. In Cook County alone — according to a 2006 estimate — nonprofit hospitals could generate an estimated $241 million in tax revenue, which could lower the tax burden for other taxpayers.

Most hospitals in the state are nonprofit institutions and most enjoy numerous tax exemptions, including from local property taxes that support cities, schools and parks.

The Illinois Hospital Association reacted to Wednesday’s stalemate by saying negotiations should continue.

“We don’t think it’s productive for the Department of Revenue to start issuing rulings again,” Chun said. “There’s nothing magical about this March 1 date. … The legislative session goes to May 31.” The hospital association has drafted its own legislation and lined up East St. Louis Democratic Sen. James Clayborne Jr. as the sponsor.

In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana wasn’t doing enough free or discounted treatment of the poor to qualify for an exemption. The ruling resulted in the hospital paying about $1.2 million in local property tax payments annually.

Last year, the Illinois Department of Revenue cited the high court’s ruling when denying property tax exemptions to three hospitals: Northwestern Memorial’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, Edward Hospital in Naperville and Decatur Memorial Hospital in Decatur.