State Puts Dent in Massive Unpaid Bill Backlog

Comptroller urges legislature, governor to act to reduce it further

EYEWITNESS NEWS CAPITOL BUREAU - You think you have a stack of bills to pay? You should see the state's. The Comptroller has been trying to pay those off quickly. In fact, she's almost cut the bill backlog in half from what it was just a few months ago.

As soon as Comptroller Susana Mendoza was sworn into office a year ago, she was dealing with about $7 billion in unpaid bills. But, as the budget impasse dragged on, things didn't get better. In October, Illinois hit an all-time record high accumulating close to $17 billion in the ledger.

"There were doctors, they needed to get paid, sometimes up to two years those bills are really incurring a lot of interest," said Jamey Dunn, comptroller's spokesperson. 

But now, some hope is shinning on the state after passing a budget allowing Illinois to sell up to $6 billion in bonds to help massive overdue Medicaid bills and others. With that sale, millions of dollars a day is not piling up in late interest fees.

"We already racked up about $900 million in late payment interest penalties before the plan kicked in. Now, we're going to see a lot of that by this refinancing plan," said Dunn. Mendoza's office says, while there has been significant dents made, all the bond money has been spent which means there won't be another big reduction for some time.

"It's been a good deal for taxpayers. It's got the backlog, but at this point, the only way we're going to see a substantial drop in the bill backlog is seeing action from the governor and legislature to address it."

Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez says, in order to make cuts, she'd like more feedback from state agencies. "The agencies weren't necessarily offering a lot of suggestions on where to cut,  everybody pointed fingers. Even in the budget that we passed, there were cuts and there was no revenue and it's going to be a bit of a painful discussion."

With some significant dents in the backlog, there are still big delays for others. The office says the oldest unpaid bills date back to March. 

Also starting next year with a new law, Mendoza's office says there shouldn't be big surprises with the backlog jumping unexpectedly. The debt transparency bill will require all state agencies to fill out spending monthly, instead of getting reports yearly.  


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