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Doug Finke

Report: State agencies hold nearly $2.5 billion in bills

State agencies were holding nearly $2.5 billion in bills at the end of last year, pushing the state’s bill backlog to more than $9.2 billion.

The numbers are part of the first report issued by Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office under a new state law that requires state agencies to report on bills they are holding that have not been submitted for payment.

Mendoza pushed for the law last year to give her a better picture of the state’s bill backlog, particularly as she tried to prioritize bills the state didn’t have enough cash to pay on time.

Mendoza knew the number of bills that had been submitted to her office for payment but could only estimate the amount of bills still being held in agencies.

“Now we can all see a clearer picture of what Illinois owes to small business, universities, community colleges, social service providers and others,” Mendoza said in a statement. “The Debt Transparency Report takes the politics out of the numbers to provide meaningful data.”

The report said that as of Dec. 31, the state had a bill backlog of about $9.2 billion. That includes about $2.4 billion that was being held in state agencies and hadn’t yet been forwarded to Mendoza’s office for payment. At its peak, the bill backlog stood at nearly $16.7 billion, a record high for the state.

Mendoza said the report confirmed a couple of things about the state’s finances. One is that there is about $2.3 billion in bills being held in state agencies for expenses that were not approved by the General Assembly. Those expenses previously came to light when the state sold bonds to pay down its bill backlog.

During an appearance in Skokie last week, Rauner said he will address that $2.3 billion during his upcoming budget speech in February. Rauner also vowed he would present a budget that gives more money to education while also beginning the process of eliminating last summer’s state income tax increase.

The comptroller’s report also confirmed that as of the end of December, the state had accumulated $1 billion in late payment penalties. State law requires interest payments of up to 12 percent a year be paid on overdue bills. The number of those overdue bills soared during the 2-year budget impasse.

As part of the budget agreement last summer, the state sold $6 billion in bonds that were applied to the state’s bill backlog. By using the money on Medicaid bills, the state received an additional $2.2 billion in federal money. As of last week, the bill backlog stood at $8.8 billion.

The report also said that not all of the 84 agencies required to report under the law have complied with it. Four agencies have still not submitted the required reports, the largest of them the Department of Children and Family Services.

Read the full report at http://bit.ly/2F3YQwe.

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