By Kerry Lester
CHICAGO, Ill. (AP) – The outlook for thousands of Illinois service providers became brighter after lawmakers dedicated a $1.2 billion windfall to addressing the state’s chronic unpaid bills problem, but some fear the positive trend could be short-lived.
The windfall has helped lower the state’s debt to social service groups, charities and businesses, but only to $5.8 billion from $8.5 billion in April. Providers still expect a difficult road ahead, with some fearing it may take another windfall next year to keep the state’s debts from growing once again. A solution to Illinois’ budget-cramping pension crisis remains elusive, and longer term, the state’s temporary income tax hike is scheduled to be rolled back.
“For better or for worse we continue to have to manage in a crisis setting,” said Dan Schwick, vice president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, one of the state’s largest charitable agencies.
The new state budget the General Assembly is sending to Gov. Pat Quinn avoids cuts to human services and education for the first time in years – a fact that Democratic lawmakers trumpeted in the midst of the state’s financial difficulties. Quinn’s office predicts the backlog of unpaid bills will be at $5.9 billion at the end of the fiscal year next June.
But the state comptroller says she fears lawmakers who approved the $35.4 billion general-funds spending plan are counting on another unexpected windfall that will not appear.
“I hate to be the skunk at the picnic, but I must be,” Judy Baar Topinka, a Riverside Republican, told The Associated Press. “If the legislature thinks there’s money hanging around that they can play with, that is not happening. I was surprised they tagged another billion or two onto the budget as if happy times were here again.”
For several years, Illinois has made a habit of not paying billions of dollars in bills for months at a time, creating a cycle of hardship and sacrifice for those who deliver some of the state’s most important services.1 2 3 next >>
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