Report shows Illinois finances dogged further

Medicaid, pensions to create 'dangerous' storm

January 31, 2012

(WBEZ/file)
A budget watchdog says Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and lawmakers face a mounting stack of unpaid bills.

Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills could go from bad to catastrophic, according to a new report from the Civic Federation that crunched state budget numbers looking ahead five years.

The analysis comes two days before Gov. Pat Quinn delivers his State of the State address, traditionally a chance for governors to tout the health of the state. The report shows Illinois’ $4 billion backlog of unpaid bills could climb to more than $34 billion by 2017.  

“All governors like to talk about the positive aspects of their administration and certainly Governor Quinn has some positive aspects,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said. “But the fiscal reality of the state of Illinois isn’t rosy and it isn’t optimistic.” 

The report from the nonpartisan government research organization points to pension costs and medical bills for the poor and uninsured as the primary culprits of increased state spending during the next five years. The report advises state leaders to look at retirement benefits, a cigarette tax and major government restructuring to avoid a meltdown -- and to plan ahead. Typically, elected officials build budgets year-to-year with little longterm planning.

“It’s a very frightening situation,” Msall said. “It’s one that calls for, not half measures, not politically massaged answers. It calls for significant, drastic action by the state of Illinois.”

The state is worse off than its neighbors, having entered the national economic downturn in more fragile shape than other states, he said.