“Illinois’ Budget Impasse Leads to ‘Out of Control’ Interest Payments.”
That WTTW headline and similar story lines were common Tuesday after release of a report by Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza on late fees paid by Illinois on its backlog of unpaid bills — 1.4 billion just in the last two-and-one-half years. Her report and the accompanying press release say basically just that: “The fact that, under Governor Rauner, the state allowed its bill backlog to grow to a point where we incurred nearly two decades worth of late payment interest penalties in just over two years is asinine,” Mendoza said.
It’s bunk. Baloney. Nonsense. It didn’t matter whether a budget was in place.
During the impasse, tax revenue came in and bills were incurred just as they did when there was a budget. Bills went unpaid because we were spending more than we were taking in. It’s that simple. We spent everything we had and more, just as we did before the impasse, and just as we are doing today. The backlog was as high as $9 billion in January 2013, long before the impasse started.
But didn’t the backlog drop dramatically after the budget was passed last July — from $16.7 billion to about $8 billion today? Yes, but that’s because we moved bills to a different credit card. Through a bond sale shortly after the budget was passed (and some resulting reimbursements from the federal government) the state raised $8.8 billion, which was applied entirely against the unpaid bills. There is nothing to show for any budget impact on the backlog.
Also, Mendoza’s own numbers don’t really support her blame-Rauner theme. On the right is a graphic from her report, which she didn’t discuss. It shows that late penalties in the Quinn years weren’t that much lower than during Rauner’s term. Remember that Democrats had super majorities in both houses of the General Assembly during those Quinn years.
Susana Mendoza is charismatic, articulate and a bundle of energy. She’s also a superb spin artist, as this chapter shows. Much of the press, like WTTW as shown in that headline, bought the spin.
It’s part of a theme clearly central to Illinois Democrats this election: Most of our problems were caused by the budget impasse, and Governor Rauner is entirely to blame for the impasse.
The second part of that theme is just as silly. The Democrat controlled General Assembly obviously shares blame. Ominously, it looks like they’re prepared to double down by ensuring another impasse. They’ve made no semblance of a counter offer to the budget Rauner proposed, but they’ll no doubt be blaming an impasse on Rauner.
They’ll probably get away with it. In the meantime, the real problem, which is deficit spending, goes ignored.
-Mark Glennon is founder and Executive Editor of Wirepoints.