Mendoza's reduced bill backlog claim is 'nonsense,' expert says
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is misleading the public by claiming that having a state budget in place has allowed Illinois to reduce its backlog of bills, fiscal experts say.
In an April 4 message on the Illinois State Comptroller’s Twitter account Mendoza wrote: “Now, with a budget in place, and after going to market with our bonds, we have been able to reduce the bill backlog from $16.7 to $8 billion and decrease our interest rate from 12% to 3.5% — paying back many of those with state contracts.”
“It’s nonsense,” said Mark Glennon, founder of the fiscal research group Wirepoints. “The October bond issue and reimbursements from the federal government have allowed us to reduce our backlog. The budget and the tax increase that went with it had nothing to do with it.”
Glennon said that Mendoza has also overstated her role in reducing the backlog; she called it one of her office’s top 10 accomplishments last year.
“All we’ve done is replaced one credit card with another,” Glennon said referring to the interest due on the bonds.
What’s more, the backlog of $9.2 billion at the end of the 2017 calendar year should have been at least $1 billion lower, Glennon said. The October bond sale and the matching funds that came from paying bills owed to the federal government raised $8.7 billion. The backlog of bills hit a high of $16.67 billion just before the state received the bond proceeds. Subtracting the $8.7 billion from that figure should result in a remaining backlog of less than $7.97 billion.
“How do you explain that when we had a big tax increase that was also supposed to help cut the backlog, and Mendoza’s office said that the revenue from that would start showing up in September,” he said. “That money’s already been spent, and we’re still in the red.”
Glennon and other fiscal experts agree that the bond sale made sense because it substituted a lower interest rate for stiffer penalties that accrued with the unpaid bills.
“But make no mistake that it was a desperate act forced by circumstances,” he said. “Pushing current operating expenses into the future is inter-generational theft. Nobody should be bragging about that.”