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How Much Has Illinois’ Budget Crisis Cost Each State Resident?

In two years with no budget, the state of Illinois has racked up billions of dollars in new debt.

So, I wondered: What’s my individual share?

For help with the math, I called Todd Ely, a public finance professor at University of Colorado in Denver.

I started with the raw numbers: Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza says when the fiscal year ends, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills will be $11.6 billion dollars higher than when the budget impasse started.

And the U.S. Census Bureau estimates we’ve got about 12.8 million people here.

“I know, you get lost in the zeros when you’re dealing with these billions,” Ely said as we looked at a spreadsheet together.

It came to about $906 per person. But that’s not the full tab.  

By law, the state pays interest on its bill backlog. And it has been losing ground on the state’s pension obligations. Illinois had $111 billion in unfunded obligations when the crisis started, and the state’s latest estimate puts that number at $129 billion.

Ely says the pension math is harder, but the bottom line is at least a grand for me. And for every man, woman, and child in the state.

Dan Weissmann is a WBEZ reporter. Follow him at @danweissmann.

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