CHICAGO, March 17 Illinois' pile of unpaid
bills, a barometer of the state's deep financial problems, hit
an all-time high of $12.8 billion, the state comptroller
announced on Friday.
The nation's fifth-largest state is limping through a
record-setting second-straight fiscal year without a complete
budget due to an ongoing impasse between its Republican governor
and Democrats who control the legislature.
With the bill backlog representing $1,000 for every state
resident, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza called on Governor
Bruce Rauner and legislators to pass a budget.
“Illinois is in the midst of a historic financial meltdown,"
Mendoza, a Democrat, said in a statement. "Our social service
agencies, schools and seniors have suffered during the 21 months
we’ve waited for executive action on an actual budget."
Despite Illinois' inability to enact a spending plan, the
state is operating on continuing appropriations to cover
big-ticket items like payments for pensions and bonds, and
court-ordered spending for payroll and an array of health and
A massive bipartisan bill package to end the budget
stalemate has been on hold in the state Senate since March 1
when Republican support evaporated.
The package includes bills to complete the fiscal 2017
budget, which expired on Dec. 31, as well as to hike taxes, cut
pension costs by about $1 billion annually, authorize borrowing
to pay down the bill pile, expand casino gaming, and freeze
local property taxes.
Illinois, which ended fiscal 2016 on June 30 with a $9.6
billion deficit, is also struggling with unfunded liabilities of
$130 billion for pensions and $33 billion for state retiree
Without a credible budget fix, Illinois' triple-B credit
rating, the lowest among the 50 states, risks sliding closer to
the junk level or even into it.
"Nothing is off the table" given the fact no state has gone
20 months without a budget, S&P Global Ratings analyst Gabe
Petek told a credit forum audience in Chicago last week.
No U.S. state has ever been rated at the junk level,
according to records dating back about a half century from S&P,
Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)