Illinois is sitting on a $16 billion pile of unpaid bills. The bills won’t go away. All we can do is pay them, as orderly and efficiently as possible.
The state Legislature and Illinois comptroller really can’t do that, though — certainly not orderly or efficiently — because nobody has a clear accounting of every bill. They tend to pile up in different state agencies around Springfield. Many bills are for spending that was done in the last fiscal year without any appropriation by the Legislature.
If you ran your personal finances like that, your credit score would plunge somewhere south of absolute zero.
What Illinois could use is a required monthly reporting to the comptroller’s office of all bills held by other state agencies, instead of the current annual reporting. This should include a specific accounting of old bills in need of a formal legislative appropriation. Legislation to require just that passed in the Legislature this spring, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it.
Backers of the bill hope to override Rauner’s veto in the legislative session scheduled to begin later this month. We have yet to see a good argument against an override. Monthly bill reporting to the comptroller, as dry a matter as that might be, represents an important step toward Illinois government getting back on solid financial footing.
Generally, if state bills aren’t paid in 90 days, the interest rate soars to 1 percent a month, or 12 percent a year. Right now, the state owes some $900 million in accrued interest. As state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, says, “That’s like burning money in a garbage can.”
But the bills can’t be paid if they are kept at state agencies instead of being forwarded in a timely manner to the comptroller’s office.
The governor’s office said Rauner vetoed the bill because meeting its requirements would pose too big a technological challenge. But the governor should look to the world of private business. Corporations do this kind of reporting every day.
This is a perfect example of how government can learn from business.
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