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National Editorial & Columnists

Wanted: Candidate with plan to pay overdue bills

Inexcusable that needed agencies might be closed

The future of another social service agency is in jeopardy as it continues to wait on Deadbeat Illinois to make good on its backlog of unpaid bills.

This time it's the Mary Davis Home, a juvenile detention center in Galesburg that cares for children ages 10 to 16 from numerous west-central Illinois counties while they await court proceedings for various types of legal problems.

For more than a year, the state of Illinois has owed the facility about $5 million at any given time, much of which is owed from 2005 or earlier. The state currently owes the center $4.9 million.

Illinois is supposed to fund 58 percent of the detention center's budget, authorities say, but this year state funds made up only half of that – 26 percent.

Finances are getting so uncomfortably tight for the Mary Davis Home that members of the Knox County Board, which oversees the home, are considering significantly reducing its services or closing its doors for good.

As the state continues to ignore its mountainous fiscal obligations, another race for governor is getting underway. Crafting a workable plan to dig Illinois out from its backlog of unpaid bills should be a top priority for every candidate.

Any candidate who wants the job as the state's chief executive can't simply tell voters the state needs to pay down its backlog of bills. He must tell voters specifically how he intends to make it happen.

Illinois' backlog of bills is a problem that continues to grow. The state's entire general fund is $35 billion; its unpaid bills equal roughly a quarter of that amount.

Yet, few lawmakers and elected officials are focused on the problem because of the never-ending discussion and hand wringing about the state's $100 billion pension crisis – an enormous problem in its own right. Pensions and unpaid bills are separate but equal issues in terms of priorities.

The state's bill backlog affects the cost of doing business with and within Illinois. It's past time for elected officials to come together and address the problem.

It is inexcusable for needed agencies like the Mary Davis Home to struggle to stay open simply because the state won't pay its bills.

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