State Comptroller Susana Mendoza on Tuesday painted a bleak picture of Illinois’ fiscal health, and pointed a finger at Gov. Bruce Rauner for creating the “lawless fiscal climate” in the state.
The Chicago Democrat, who won a heated, expensive campaign against Rauner’s Republican ally Leslie Munger to win her first term as comptroller last fall, issued a 395-page annual report on the state’s finances. A few highlights: backlogged payments to doctors and hospitals more than doubled to $4.3 billion; spending on health and social service programs dropped $834 million; the state paid $1.5 billion on $30 billion in bond debt; the overall deficit climbed $5.7 billion, to $126 billion.
“Volumes of research go into this report, but I can summarize our state finances in one word: abysmal,” Mendoza wrote in a statement, blaming Rauner for an impasse with the Democrat-controlled Legislature that has left the state without a budget during Rauner’s first two years in office.
“This third year of his administration has the markings of a complete financial meltdown. His failure in leadership has been so spectacular that no aspect of the state has been spared. The numbers back that up.”
A Rauner spokeswoman said that Mendoza has a share of the blame, as she served in the Legislature for 10 years before being elected comptroller — with the help of Rauner nemesis House Speaker Mike Madigan.
“The governor continues pushing for a truly balanced budget along with changes to our system that create jobs, strengthen schools and provide for our human services,” spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis wrote in an email. “Instead of issuing press releases and pointing fingers, Madigan’s comptroller should be urging her former colleagues in the General Assembly to help us pass a truly balanced budget and much needed structural changes.”
State budget expert David Merriman, an economist at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at University of Illinois, said the numbers are indeed bad‚ though the problematic conditions that led to them have been around for decades.
“If there was a word worse than ‘abysmal,’ I might go with that,” Merriman said, noting that the figures in Mendoza’s Comprehensive Annual Funding Report might actually be less dire than what he would have forecast.
The pension funding problems that are the most daunting part of the state’s fiscal mess have spanned many governors, though Merriman points out that the failure of Rauner and the Legislature to approve a budget has exacerbated problems with deficits in state spending not related to pensions. In the absence of a budget, state operations have continued based on prior year spending levels or in accordance with court orders.