From AP - News Headlines -

Civic Group: Illinois Unpaid Bills Could Quadruple

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

According to a report released Monday by the Civic Federation of Chicago, Illinois' overdue bills will total more than $9 billion this summer, and that number could be nearly four times as much in just five years.

As legislators return to Springfield this week, they're facing a difficult situation. Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said the state must act quickly to solve its fiscal problems.

"There's nothing politically easily left to do in the state of Illinois," Msall said. "The tax increase didn't solve the problem. We're going to have to start to say no and make painful choices."

The Civic Federation suggests cutting retirement benefits for government employees, reducing Medicaid costs and taxing retirement and Social Security income.

A major state-employee union sharply criticized the Civic Federation's recommendations.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said the group calls for government workers to make sacrifices but not big corporations or wealthy individuals. It opposes borrowing to pay overdue bills but ignores the impact on businesses and community groups the state is failing to pay, the union said, and the report doesn't make clear that high pension costs are largely a result of the state failing to pay its share in the past.

"The federation's repeated omission of relevant context calls its credibility into question," said an AFSCME statement "Instead this document reads like a series of ideological conclusions searching for factual support."

In a statement, Gov. Pat Quinn's office said employers "need to have a stake'' in paying for teacher retirement costs. The Democratic governor's also says he wants "aggressive restructuring'' of Medicaid, the health program for poor people.

Quinn gives his State of the State address on Wednesday and will formally propose a budget proposal on Feb. 22. He has called for "aggressive restructuring of the Medicaid system," a topic he may discuss in his address. He and legislative leaders have discussed cutting pension benefits for state employees and reducing costs for Medicaid. But it is not clear they will be able to agree on a plan, or whether legislators will be willing to vote for cuts in an election year.

Meanwhile, Illinois regional school superintendents are hoping they're not targets this year in the governor's State of the State address. State funding for Illinois' regional superintendents is being proposed for next fiscal year.

Last year Gov. Quinn suggested doing away with the 44 positions, then vetoed funding for their salaries in July. Illinois' elected regional superintendents oversee training bus drivers, GED testing, and school building inspections, among other things. Quinn justified cutting funding for the positions last year by calling the officials "bureaucrats."

President of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents Bob Daiber said they are working hard to educate officials about what they do.

"We think the greatest preventative measure is both the General Assembly and the governor to fully understand our significance and that we're not a part of any bureaucracy in Illinois," Daiber said.

The regional superintendents and their assistants worked without pay from last July until November, when legislators approved using money from a corporate property tax.