Illinois is racking up more debt than even its comptroller knows about. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bills are awaiting payment. They're part of a little known program that has lawmakers asking questions.
Documents obtained by Illinois Public Radio show that since November, the state owes businesses in the Vendor Support Initiative program more than $600 million. That doesn't include the 1 percent interest fee applied per month to bills over 90 days old under the Prompt Payment Act.
The program allows companies to buy invoices of others who have done business with the state, and are awaiting payment. The companies pay the bills, then make a profit by collecting both the overdue money and the interest on it when the state eventually pays up.
The original plan started under Gov. Pat Quinn. But last fall it was changed to go around the comptroller because of the budget impasse. The VSI program doesn't require a voucher to processed because there's no authorization through an appropriation to pay the vouchers.
Already, the comptroller's office anticipates Illinois' bill backlog could reach $12 billion by the end of June. That doesn't include this program's bills.
State Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said he doesn't understand how Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration can incur state debt without approval from the legislature.
"Obviously, they're not our priorities, right? Because we're not making the decisions because they're circumventing the appropriation process," he said.
A spokesman for the state agency that administers the program says the comptroller won't have the voucher information until the bill is presented for payment. It's unclear what vendors are being paid through this program and which have not been approved.
The governor's office said the state is not a party to those transactions, it's strictly between the vendor and qualified purchaser. But it said it is aware of who is participating.