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Comptroller To Rauner: Get Going On Backlog

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza (file)

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to step up the pace in dealing with the state’s debt.

She’s urging him to borrow money — authorized by the new budget — in order to begin paying off more than $14 billion dollars in overdue bills.

"You should know that this debt is costing you, the taxpayer, $2 million a day, at up to 12 percent interest in late-payment interest penalties," Mendoza said Monday in a video posted online.

So far, that interest alone exceeds $800 million dollars. That's more than Illinois' new budget spends on the University of Illinois; Chicago State University; and Eastern, Western and Northern Illinois universities — combined.

Asked whether Rauner supports borrowing to pay down the backlog, the administration did not answer directly, instead trying to redirect attention to the comptroller's office.

Rauner spokeswoman Laurel Patrick suggested Mendoza sweep $600 million in unspent money from state funds — a process authorized by this year's budget legislation — and begin paying down the backlog with that.

"The Governor's final decision on bonding requires us to first know how much of the bill backlog can be addressed through means other than bonding," Patrick said in an email. "That is why we ask the Comptroller to begin reducing the backlog of bills immediately."

But Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch says that argument is a red herring, since Mendoza has already begun that process. He also says it won't be nearly enough money to really address the state's debt.

"Even if both sides did everything they could possibly do, it still would not get through the Rauner backlog," Pallasch said in a telephone interview. He also said the depth of the backlog means there's no need for Rauner to figure out how much to borrow: "He should do the max that he can do, and we should do the max that we can do.”
Later in the day, taking questions from reporters, Rauner seemed to indicate he was skeptical of the plan to issue bonds to more quickly pay down the backlog: "More borrowing on top of the spending behavior of the state government is not an optimal answer."

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Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

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Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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