CHICAGO (AP) — Feb. 5, 2013

Rockford Register Star

Illinois doctors have better cure for license problem

If you get sick or injured in the state of Illinois you may die because there will not be enough licensed doctors to take care of you.

Absurd statement? Yes, but no less absurd than the fact that the state agency that licenses doctors is running out of money and laying off staff and may not being able to issue physicians the credentials they need to practice in timely fashion.

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation does good work. It issues licenses, disciplines doctors and maintains a website you can use to check up on a physician ( The problem, as is it is for most state of Illinois agencies, is that it has no money.

The department has a $9.6 million budget shortfall, which is why it has had to lay off staff and why it could take months rather than weeks for doctors to get their licenses. The IDFPR could be getting by — at least temporarily — if the state hadn't swept $9.6 million over the years from its account to cover other state financial shortfalls.

The licensing delay is critical for medical school graduates who could see the start of their careers postponed. Match Day, a national event in which graduating medical school students learn where they will work as residents, is next month. Med school graduates can't practice until they are licensed. They could take a more expedient route and practice in a different state, which means Illinois could lose some of its best and brightest.

The licensing delay also could leave hospitals short staffed and could prod experienced doctors to practice across the state line or retire rather than deal with the licensing hassles. New doctors will be needed to replace retiring physicians, but without licenses they can't practice in Illinois.

Unlike other groups that have been stung by the lack of state support, Illinois doctors have come up with a cure. The Illinois State Medical Society endorses legislation — House Bill 1001 — that would increase licensing fees from $300 to $500 every three years (a 67 percent increase) so the regulation department has plenty of money to do its work. IDFPR doesn't think that's enough.

The Medical Society also would like the money that was transferred from the regulation department restored, a reasonable request that's unlikely to be granted given the state's overall financial picture.

IDFPR wants the doctors' fees to be increased to $750, and it proposes borrowing $6.6 million so it can rehire staff and get back on track.

We think the doctors' proposal is more reasonable.


Feb. 6, 2013

(Peoria) Journal Star

No more pension ping-pong

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn did his best imitation of a ping-pong ball in Wednesday's State of the State address, bouncing from one issue to the other with often the oddest of transitions.

Perhaps the most bizarre of those was in trying to tie the military service and tragic death of Marine veteran Tyler Ziegel of Metamora — badly wounded and disfigured in Iraq in 2004 before a fatal fall this past December — to pension reform. The governor loves to invoke the service and sacrifice of veterans and has admirably been their consistent champion, this was no doubt a well-intentioned attempt at doing some more of that, and he was trying to make a point about courage — political courage in this case — but it still came off as a clumsy attempt to link two wholly unrelated issues.

Ultimately it goes to the ability to focus, a characteristic that has been sorely lacking in Springfield, no more so than over pensions, the significant reform of which the Legislature has routinely passed on even as the state's credit rating has been downgraded to the lowest in the nation as a result.

Perhaps that explains why, in a speech just short of 40 minutes, the governor began with pension reform and ended with it, with yet another mention or two in between. Problem is, along the way he provided the Legislature an agenda laundry list with no end of potential distractions, from his endorsement of a controversial assault weapons ban to raising the minimum wage, from a public works program to creation of an Illinois Manufacturing Lab at the U of I, from gay marriage to scholarships for illegal immigrants, from more ethics legislation — we get it; he's not Ryan, not Blagojevich — to online voter registration and open primaries.

There is but one issue for the Legislature to grapple with in this spring legislation session: Pensions. The argument can be made that the Legislature should do nothing else until that crisis has been tamed, so critical are pension reforms to everything else the state is trying to accomplish through its budget, including balancing it, paying off the old bills, funding classrooms, staffing prisons, insuring the poor, building roads and bridges, etc., etc., etc. Illinois' unfunded pension liability, at $96 billion and counting, is by far the highest in the nation and compromises all of the above.

One would like to think state government could do more than one thing at a time, but decades of watching would suggest that multi-tasking is not a dominant strain in Springfield's DNA. We meander instead of drawing a straight line to the destination. We no longer have the luxury of taking the scenic route to pension reform.

This newspaper's position on that score has not changed. Legislators should not go out of their way to make an abysmal situation worse by writing and passing a bill likely to be declared unconstitutional, which may mean steering clear of significant benefit changes for those already retired. Nor is one particularly enamored of a proposed shift of pension obligations from the state to local school districts. The state broke the system, it owns the system. If past is prologue, how can anyone trust state government to suddenly discover the discipline not to go on a spending binge once it has shed its pension burden, condemning us to the same sinking boat a decade from now? Local taxpayers, beware. Beyond that, everything else — including taxing retirement income — is fair game.


Feb. 8, 2013

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Gov. Quinn missed the boat

State of the State speech barely mentioned Illinois' dire financial problems and failed to demand action from legislators.

It's not easy being the governor of Illinois during a period of financial crisis. Perhaps that's why Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to be going through the motions Wednesday when he delivered a lackluster State of the State speech.

He paid lip service to Illinois' state of effective bankruptcy, urging legislators to take action on the state's underfunded public pension systems. Mostly, however, he touted past accomplishments, spoke naively about the state's shared values, urged passage of a same-sex marriage law and called for an increase in the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour.

But what he should have done was use the bully pulpit of the State of the State address to hammer home the dangers of not taking steps to put the state's financial house in order.

His campaign-style speech was a poor substitute for educating the public about the state's fiscal woes and challenging reluctant legislators to take action.

Instead of being asked afterward for their solutions to the state's financial problems, legislators gave Quinn dismissive reviews.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan declined to speak with reporters about his fellow Democrat's speech, while Madigan lieutenants characterized it as nothing to write home about.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie lamely called Quinn's speech "pretty good" while another Madigan minion, state Rep. Lou Lang, characterized it as having "no meat on the bone."

Republican gubernatorial wannabes state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady said the speech exemplified Quinn's weak leadership, while Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno said Quinn delivered a poorly disguised campaign speech as he prepares to run for re-election in 2014.

There is no doubt Quinn is in a tough spot.

On policy issues, he faces House and Senate members who prefer to stick their heads in the sand.

As for politics, Quinn finds himself surrounded by Democrats who want to defeat him in the March 2014 Democratic primary and Republicans who want to beat him in the November 2014 general election.

What's a governor to do under those circumstances? How about using the power of his office to highlight the problem and demand action.

He needed to put legislators on the spot by dramatically emphasizing Illinois' budget woes, its multibillion-dollar unpaid debts, its flagging bond ratings and its underfunded public pensions.

He needed to point out that state government will remain permanently chaotic and ineffectual until its finances are put on a sound footing.

He needed to remind legislators that they were elected on the pledge that they were the best choice to represent the public's interest in Springfield and that it's time to show they deserve it.


Feb. 7, 2013

Chicago Sun-Times

Bears know they have a seller's market

We read in Sports that ticket prices for a Chicago Bears game are creeping up again, this time by about $4.50.

The average price for a seat this fall will be a whopping $115.57.

We could say we're shocked, but we're not. We wised up years ago, about when the Bears insisted on all those fancy skyboxes. A Bears game at Soldier Field is as much a corporate retreat as a sporting event.

We could say ticket prices are too high, but the market says otherwise. If anything, the Bears could jack up prices even more and still sell out every game. Last season, according to the financial news website 24/7 Wall St., Bears tickets resold for 25 to 100 percent of face value, for an average of almost $220 on the secondary market.

We could say people who spend that kind of money to see a football game are nuts, but that would be snooty. Who's to say that Bears ticket holders, wealthy or scraping by, are any crazier than people who spend hundreds of dollars to go to the Lyric Opera or to dine at an exclusive restaurant?

We could say that every bump up in the price of a Bears ticket reminds us of the essential truth about professional football: It's basically a TV show.

Actually, we will say that.

About 62,000 people attend each Bears game, but millions watch on TV. Over 1 million television sets in the Chicago area are tuned to every Bears game, and TV ratings for the competing team's hometown tend to get a boost, too. Think of those 62,000 fans at the game as the studio audience.

The irony of the Bears is that many fans, no doubt the great majority, have been to only a handful of games, if to any at all.

We could say Chicago has room for a second professional football team.

We definitely could say that.