News Local/State

Comptroller: Illinois Just Scraping By On Bills

Handouts from Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger illustrating the state's bill backlog.

Handouts from Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger illustrating the state's bill backlog. Hannah Meisel/Illinois Public Media

It's been nine months since Illinois' income tax rate dropped when a temporary tax hike rolled back on January first. And though the state is operating without a budget, Illinois is already spending over 90 percent of what it spent last year...which has already led to a cash shortage.

It's happened before: When the state's accounts reach a zero-dollar balance, the computer system responsible for paying for programs, pay and services stops writing checks. Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a top House Democrat from Chicago, says without a serious look at both cuts and tax increases, that day is coming.

"Come sometime, I don't know if it's February or March, we are spending at a rate that is not sustainable with current revenues," Currie told reporters in Chicago Thursday.

But the state's comptroller, Republican Leslie Munger, says that day is already here. A few weeks ago, for example, Illinois only had $120 million dollars in the bank on a day it had to pay out almost twice that.

"That money is already spent; it's been spent," Munger told reporters in Champaign Thursday. "That's why we have $7 billion in bills that are unpaid. Because it's earmarked for something, the minute it comes in it goes back out. And the fact that we have leadership in our state that doesn't understand that is extremely concerning."

The state is constantly bringing in tax and other revenue, but Munger says she's had to adjust payment dates to let money accrue for big payments like debt service or Medicaid.

Many social service agencies have sued the state over the lack of a state budget in recent months...and won. Comptroller Leslie Munger says the judicial system's involvement with state payments has made her job even more difficult. Could her office handle yet another court order if another group of agencies banded together to file suit?

"We'll handle every court order we have," she said. The problem is, at some point we're out of money. And, you know, if we have competing court orders and they all require payment on the same day, we actually have to say, 'We can't make them all on this date,' go back and let the judge know, 'We can't make this pay date because we're out of money.'"

The state's backlog of bills currently stands at $6.5 billion, up from $4 billion in the beginning of Fiscal Year 2016 on July 1. The comptroller's office predicts the backlog will grow to $8.5 billion in December.

Munger backs Governor Bruce Rauner's calls for pro-business, union-weakening measures before debating a tax increase, which she says would hurt Illinois' competitiveness with surrounding states.