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Our view: Our deadbeat government

If you were a business or organization with a deadbeat client who routinely ignored your bills, how would you handle it?

You’d probably stop doing business with the person altogether. You certainly wouldn’t keep providing services that you suspected you’d never get paid for performing. Maybe you’d eventually walk away and consider it a lesson learned.

But what if your client was the state of Illinois?

Well, first off, you have our sympathies. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger deadbeat than Illinois government. Schools, local governments, health care providers, social service agencies and private businesses are owed more than $30 million from the state just in McHenry County and some nearby areas alone. And that figure doesn’t include Medicaid payments that also are owed.

It’s a dysfunctional business relationship to say the least. But unlike some business relationships, very few of those owed money are in a position to simply walk away.

Schools can’t just send students home because the state’s check didn’t clear. Hospitals can’t kick ailing patients out of the emergency room because they know the state won’t reimburse them. Should shelters refuse homeless people because no money is coming in from Springfield?

The Associated Press and several Illinois newspapers, including the Northwest Herald, participated in a project to examine the issue of unpaid bills owed by Illinois state government by taking a snapshot of those bills from Sept. 8. Part one of our project begins on today’s 1A.

From our reporting, we learned that Illinois had more than $5 billion in outstanding bills not including Medicaid, of which $2.19 billion had gone more than 30 days without payment.

What happens to the rest of us when we ignore bills for 30, 60, 90 days or more? People lose homes, cars, and any semblance of credit. Obviously, there are real repercussions when the state doesn’t pay its bills, too.

The effect of the lack of payment hits the services we need the most on the local level – in our schools, city governments and social service agencies that are on the brink of financial ruin. Illinois ranks first in the country when it comes to nonprofit groups reporting late payments from the government.

We’d urge you to spend some time this week with the Deadbeat Illinois series to get a better grasp of this issue that affects us all.

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