Editorial: Is Illinois no longer a deadbeat? Not exactly…

Chicago Sun-Times Susana Mendoza
State’s unpaid bill backlog shrinks to $3.5 billion — and in Illinois, that’s called ‘remarkable’
April 28, 2021
Quad City Times Susana Mendoza
Editorial: Smaller backlog is welcome news
May 9, 2021

Editorial: Is Illinois no longer a deadbeat? Not exactly…

Chicago Tribune | Editorial Board —

Listen to the article.

Good news has been all but nonexistent when it comes to the abysmal state of Illinois’ finances. The state’s pension shortfall stands at a hard-to-fathom $141 billion. Its bond rating continues to hover near junk status. And it was only a few years ago, 2017 to be exact, that Springfield’s backlog of unpaid bills had reached $16.7 billion.

But about that backlog. There’s some welcome news. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza reports that Illinois’ stack of overdue bill payments has been whittled down to $3.4 billion. That’s very close to the amount the state would pay in a 30-day payment cycle. In other words, Illinois is now on track to pay its bills on time — within 30 days of receipt.

For that, we give Illinois a celebratory “corona foot shake.” (Look it up on YouTube. It’s a thing.)

Yes, it helped that the state borrowed $6 billion in 2017 to pay down old bills, which was cheaper than piling up late-pay interest costs. During the years when the state’s unpaid bill backlog was at or near its zenith, the amount of late payment interest penalties shouldered by taxpayers was sky-high, around $711 million in 2018. That’s an unconscionable amount of money Illinois taxpayers were forced to pay, on top of shouldering one of the nation’s highest tax burdens, because the state couldn’t pay. Imagine better uses for that money. There are millions.

Illinois owed billions of dollars to Medicaid providers, insurers, hospitals, daycare facilities, homes for the developmentally disabled — even school districts. The bills started piling up in 2005 to around $1 billion. By 2009, the backlog was around $5 billion. It shot up to $6.8 billion in 2012 and continued to rise to that peak of $16.7 billion in 2017.

Why couldn’t the state pay its bills on time? Why did Illinois turn into such a deadbeat? Because lawmakers and governors for years passed unbalanced budgets, spent more than came in and refused to address old pension costs that today crowd out all state revenue.

Listen to the article: Editorial Board (2021, May 5). Editorial: Is Illinois no longer a deadbeat? Not exactly, but there is good news on the state’s finances. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from www.chicagotribune.com.

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