When you read the amount of money owed by the state of Illinois in unpaid bills — nearly $5 billion and counting — it can be mind-numbing and difficult to grasp.
But as you read individual stories this week of the ways in which Illinois’ deadbeat habits have harmed individuals, agencies, businesses and local governments, the real impact of this shameful practice should become more clear. And, let’s hope, the pressure on state officials to address the problem will intensify.
The articles today and through next Sunday are the result of a project by The Associated Press, working with member newspapers across the state, including The Pantagraph.
Using state documents, The Associated Press analyzed bills owed as of early last month. Nearly half the $5 billion awaiting payment was more than a month overdue — and some bills dated back to 2010! And that doesn’t include those that are still in the pipeline, waiting to be forwarded by particular agencies to the comptroller for payment.
Nearly every Illinoisan is affected by this situation, regardless of whether you realize it. The impact is direct for some, more subtle for others.
Local taxing bodies, including governments and school districts, are feeling the squeeze because of late payments from state government. That has resulted in reduced services, delayed maintenance and increased fees or taxes, among other things.
Bloomington District 87, for example, faced with chronic late payments from the state for busing costs, increased its levy for transportation. Switches in other areas kept the overall tax rate from going up.
As of Tuesday, District 87 was owed $190,000 for transportation costs. Add in what the state owes the district in other areas, such as special education, and the total of unpaid bills is closer to $1 million.
For McLean County Unit 5, the total as of Tuesday was $2.7 million.
As outlined in today’s Pantagraph and other articles that will be printed this week, about $70 million is owed to vendors in nine counties in The Pantagraph circulation area.
It is particularly appalling that the businesses, agencies and government units owed money by the state have had to take actions such as pay cuts, layoffs and service reductions because of the state’s mismanagement, yet the state has not taken similar actions — at least not to the degree necessary to get the situation under control.
These are real people being affected by the state’s irresponsibility and they need real solutions now.