A special series: 'Deadbeat Illinois'

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In this photo taken Oct. 7, 2011, Abha Pandya sits in her office in Chicago. The CEO of the Asian Human Services Center, one of numerous Illinois nonprofits, charities and community groups is awaiting payment from the state for human services they provide. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

As part of the joint Associated Press-Associated Press Media Editors' yearlong “Broken Budgets” project, the Illinois AP is distributing stories from a combined reporting effort with members to examine the impacts of the State of Illinois' backlog in paying billions of dollars in bills. The series is titled "Deadbeat Illinois: The painful price of unpaid bills."

 

The series features a searchable database of the unpaid bills as of Sept. 8, provided by The (Moline) Dispatch/Rock Island Argus, at http://billpay.qconline.com

 

Part 1 -- Deadbeat state: Illinois owes billions in unpaid bills

Belleville (Ill.) News Democrat

 

Part 2 -- Unpaid bills undercut state's business partners

The Register Mail, Galesburg, Ill.

 

Part 3 -- Deadbeat Illinois: Unpaid bills squeeze nonprofits

The Jacksonville Journal-Courier

 

Part 4 -- Ill. universities cope with chronic late payments

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

 

Part 5 -- Late payments complicate Illinois prison operations

Belleville (Ill.) News Democrat

 

Part 6 -- Deadbeat Illinois: If all else fails, beg ... to a politician

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

 

How 'Deadbeat Illinois' came to be: a Q&A with AP's Illinois news editor - copy below

 

Highlights of Illinois members' coverage and reaction:

 

Special series explores state's financial mess

Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.

 

Editorial: Paying the price for legislators' failure to pay bills

The Jacksonville Journal-Courier

 

Susy Schultz: We also do it by the numbers

The Daily Journal, Kankakee, Ill.

 

The Deadbeat State of Illinois (in effect) Forces Nonprofits to Loan it Money

The Nonprofit Quarterly

 

State delays, then cuts, burial payments to local funeral homes

Quincy Herald-Whig (references Deadbeat Ilinois-related sidebars)

 

Suburban businesses struggle as state stiffs them on bills

Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Ill.

 

Opinion: Dancing with the State (debt)

Belleville (Ill.) News Democrat

 

Papers expose state's dirty little secrets

A view of the project by the managing editor of The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

 

State's backlog of bills infuriating

The Telegraph, Alton, Ill.

 

Britt: A lot of people being disappointed by 'Deadbeat Dad'

Gatehouse News Service

 

For health care providers, state owes much more than vouchers show

The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.

 

Governor pushes state's deadbeat ways

Herald & Review, Decatur, Ill.

 

Our Opinion: Numbers are bad, no matter the politics

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

 

Our view: Our deadbeat government

The Northwest Herald, Crystal Lake, Ill.

 

Behind numbers are real people hurt by late bills

The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

 

A scandalous policy of paying late

Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Ill.

 

Illinois embraces deadbeat policy

Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa

 

Editorial: Deadbeat? Say, no more

Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa

 

Editorial: Illinois' leaders must start leading

The State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill.

 

 

10/21/2011

 

How 'Deadbeat Illinois' came to be: a Q&A with AP's Illinois news editor

 

In this Q&A, Chicago-based News Editor Hugh Dellios of The Associated Press recalls the evolution of the “Deadbeat Illinois” series, whose stories have been appearing since Sunday, Oct. 16. As part of the joint Associated Press-Associated Press Media Editors' yearlong “Broken Budgets” project, the Illinois AP is distributing stories from a combined reporting effort with members to examine the impacts of the State of Illinois' backlog in paying billions of dollars in bills. The series is titled "Deadbeat Illinois: The painful price of unpaid bills."

 

What was the genesis of this project?

Ever since the start of the national “Broken Budgets” project, Illinois/Indiana Bureau Chief George Garties, Springfield, Ill., correspondent Christopher Wills and I had discussed the need to do a state-level project that involved the members. Garties was a big proponent. After the spring session of the Illinois General Assembly, Wills and I noted how the legislators had done virtually nothing to solve the state’s backlog of billions of dollars in unpaid bills. Wills suggested getting hold of the database of bills and distributing it to members. We started in June by showing member editors some select numbers from an early version of the database. They were quite receptive to the idea, and I crafted a formal project proposal that we sent out via email and the wire in early July.

 

How did you and AP go about enlisting member newspapers into the effort?

We invited all members to join us in a conference call in mid-July. On that first call we had editors and reporters representing two dozen members from across the state. We stressed how the project had to be a joint effort, and how a key to its success would be the long reach of the AP membership telling the story of the unpaid bills in as big and comprehensive a way as possible. In follow-up conference calls, we opened the floor for members to help shape the project, and they helped decide when to publish and what elements to include. Garties and Chicago Assistant Bureau Chief Patrick McDowell kept the idea in front of members in their conversations and in their weekly email newsletter.

 

How did the papers contribute to the report?

We enlisted specific member papers to write some of the stories, and found some willing volunteers. Some members pitched stories at us, such as the (Peoria) Journal Star wanting to write a story about the state losing tens of millions of dollars in late-pay penalties. On later calls, a core group of energetic members emerged. One member, The (Moline) Dispatch/Rock Island Argus, created a searchable version of the database as a reporting tool and interactive feature for readers/viewers. The Journal Star drew up the project logo. The (Springfield) Journal Register began collecting all the stories from across the state in its state government-focused Web site, The Dome. As we neared the deadline, members helped sharpen and broaden some of the stories with questions and observations from their own reporting. For instance, The (Champaign) News-Gazette found a nursing home owed $3.3 million when the database had them down for only $47,000, and that became the Day 3 sidebar. The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan reported out the unpaid bills’ impact on the state’s prisons, but we channeled into their story some good feeds from the Journal Star and The (Kankakee) Daily Journal.

 

What was your biggest surprise in leading such a statewide effort?

How enthusiastic the members were to engage. Several editors mentioned that, with their resource and staffing challenges, it had become hard to do investigative projects like this. One of them noted how the project showed that newspapers were still the best forum for rolling out a project with this kind of depth and reach.

 

What would you say has been the impact of the findings?

Illinois’ unpaid bills problem has been festering for three years, and each member had probably done a smaller, anecdotal story on it. But through Chris’ budget expertise and the database, we were able to show how stiffing vendors and social service agencies -- essentially turning them into unwilling lenders to the state -- had become a routine way of managing the state’s budget. By enlisting the membership, we were able to capture the full scope of the problem and how it affected small business people and care providers in every corner of the state. Through FOIA work by AP Political Writer John O’Connor, we were able to capture the haphazard, at-times arbitrary process through which some bills are expedited for payment, opening the door for political connections to play a role.

 

 


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