Quinn on the state's unpaid bills

Monday, September 20, 2010

CHICAGO — Illinois is mired in financial crisis with a $13 billion deficit and an eye-popping backlog of unpaid bills from vendors who provide goods and services to the state, including school districts, utilities and landlords who lease buildings.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn says not to worry, the backlog of overdue bills will be gone by the end of the year. "They'll all be paid," he said.

That's true only in a very narrow, technical sense. The reality is, organizations doing business with the state aren't going to get all their money for a long, long time.

Here's a closer look at what Quinn says:

CLAIM: "Every bill will be paid by the end of this year. It was paid last year and we will get it done," Quinn said.

THE FACTS: What matters here is which bills Quinn is -- and isn't -- talking about.

When Quinn says "every bill," he's talking about bills the state received in fiscal 2010, which ended on June 30, aides explained. So the governor is promising that bills the state got in the first half of the year will be paid before the second half of the year ends.

But while the state is paying off those bills, new ones are piling up in their place. Quinn isn't making any promises about those.

That means there's no guarantee that a vendor who did work for the state in August, after the new fiscal year started, will see payment anytime before next year.

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes' office says the pile of unpaid bills in his office right now totals $4.6 billion. Some vendors, including both businesses and charities, are waiting as long as seven months to get their money.

Quinn won't speculate on how far behind the state will be come July, when the next fiscal year starts.

"That's hard to say. I mean that's the future. I'm not, you know, clairvoyant," he said.

The budget Quinn introduced in March envisioned ending the 2011 fiscal year with a backlog of roughly $6 billion. The budget approved by legislators appears to include roughly the same level of unpaid bills.

Both Quinn and Republican challenger Bill Brady say they'll eliminate the backlog within two years if elected this fall. Neither has explained how he would do it.