SPRINGFIELD -- Thousands of Illinois business owners are owed tax refunds -- some dating to 2008 -- but they could be left empty-handed again because of disagreements over how to balance the state budget.
Earlier this year, Gov. Pat Quinn proposed a plan to borrow money to start paying down what could become a $1 billion backlog of unpaid corporate tax returns to an estimated 36,000 businesses.
But Republicans say the state should instead cut spending and use the savings to pay the old bills.
The standoff in the General Assembly has left business owners in limbo.
At Peters Machine Inc. in Decatur, President Jerry Nelson said he continues to wait for about $15,000 the company is owed dating to the 2008 tax year.
He calls the amount of his unpaid refund "small potatoes," but said it's not the state's money to keep.
"I've tried to get answers, but no one seems to be in a position to let me know what's going to happen," Nelson said.
The refunds are due because the companies paid more in taxes than they owed the state.
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But because the state hasn't adequately financed the tax return fund, there isn't enough money to pay out the refunds. It is a double-whammy for some companies, who also may be owed money if they performed work for the state. The backlog to vendors and social service providers stands at an estimated $4.5 billion.
Carl Woodward, a Bloomington-based accountant, does the taxes for about 200 Illinois businesses. He said his office, Woodward & Associates, often gets calls from clients wondering when their money with be refunded.
"They think they'll never get it," Woodward said.
The Illinois Department of Revenue, which administers the state's tax system, says it is stymied because lawmakers and the governor have not appropriated money to pay out the refunds.
"We are aware that there is a problem," said Revenue spokeswoman Sue Hofer. "The bottom line is that there has to be money in that fund."
Although a solution remains unclear as lawmakers head toward a May 31 adjournment, the state has previously borrowed money to pay the refunds.
In May 2003, for example, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed off on a plan to pump $475 million in bond proceeds to help chip away at the refund backlog.
Lawmakers and Quinn's budget office have looked into a smaller borrowing package, but a resolution is not expected for several weeks.
During a stop in Macomb Tuesday, Quinn acknowledged his overall borrowing proposal remains a work in progress.
"I have a plan. I think it's a good plan. We're going to keep working on it," Quinn said.