By Karen Pierog & Dave McKinney
CHICAGO – Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog has hit a record high of $14.3 billion as the legislature nears a May 31 budget deadline, the state comptroller’s office said on Wednesday.
The bill pile jumped from $13.3 billion after the governor’s budget office this week reported more than $1 billion in liabilities held at state agencies, the comptroller said.
Illinois is limping toward the June 30 end of its second straight fiscal year without a complete budget due to an impasse between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the legislature.
“It’s clear the Rauner Administration has been holding bills at state agencies in an attempt to mask some of the damage caused by the governor’s failure to fulfill his constitutional duty and present a balanced budget,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, said in a statement, adding that the governor’s office was keeping lawmakers in the dark about the true size of the backlog.
Eleni Demertzis, Rauner’s spokeswoman, said instead of the “same tired partisan attacks,” Mendoza should be talking “to her party leaders about working with Republicans to pass a budget that is truly balanced and job-creating changes that will grow our economy.”
Lawmakers face a May 31 deadline to pass budget bills with simple-majority votes. The Senate on Wednesday passed pieces of a long-awaited package to stabilize state finances, including budgets for the current and upcoming fiscal years, authorization to borrow $7 billion to pay down the bill backlog and an overhaul to state pensions.
But the House-bound legislation faces an unclear future. The Senate defeated legislation to implement the budget bill, putting its fate in doubt, while Rauner remains another question mark.
He has conditioned his support of a budget on passage of changes to workers compensation laws and a long-term freeze on property taxes. A bill for a two-year local property tax freeze fell four votes shy in the Senate, leaving a significant opening for the governor to reject the entire Democratic-crafted spending package.
The busy legislative day also included Senate passage of a gambling-expansion bill authorizing a Chicago-owned casino and a school funding revamp that allocates $215 million to help Chicago’s cash-strapped schools pay teacher pensions this year.
Rauner’s office rejected the school bill, but did not immediately comment on the other legislation.
Illinois’ reliance on continuing appropriations, court-ordered spending and partial budgets has caused the unpaid bill backlog to balloon from $9.1 billion at the end of fiscal 2016.