CHICAGO – Days ahead of Gov. Pat Quinn’s major yearly address, his budget chief sent lawmakers a letter Sunday detailing “encouraging” developments on the effort to reduce Illinois’ billions in unpaid bills, and he said payments could soon be in line with “private-sector benchmarks.”
The move could help set the tone for Wednesday’s State of the State speech where Quinn, who is facing re-election, is expected to talk about his vision, accomplishments and possibly his approach to Illinois’ lingering financial problems. He could lay out what he proposes when the income tax increase expires in 2015.
The letter from Quinn’s budget director Jerry Stermer, obtained by The Associated Press, said unpaid bills will be about $5.6 billion by fiscal year’s end – down from nearly $10 billion at the peak of the recession. Stermer’s letter details payments to human services and says more information on the state’s status will be available on a website and updated each month.
“If the outstanding bills are paid down – and not allowed to pile up again – the amount of bills making their way through the state’s payment system in any 30-day period will be in line with private-sector benchmarks,” Stermer wrote.
Quinn’s budget spokesman Abdon Pallasch said the letter was sent Sunday because that’s when the information was ready. He said there was no connection to Quinn’s State of the State address.
However, the letter prompted other questions, particularly over the income tax.
Quinn and Democrats approved the temporary increase in 2011 as a way to help close a budget deficit. But Republicans have said the state’s unpaid bills are still too high.
Senate Republicans planned to review the numbers in Stermer’s letter, but said they were a good signal if accurate.
“It remains a concern, however, that there still are piles of old bills,” Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, said in a statement. “The Democrats sold their tax increase as a way to pay bills. But three years and $20 billion from taxpayers’ pockets later, there is still debt.”
Earlier this month, Stermer’s office released a report outlining what would happen if the income tax increase expires as scheduled: Illinois’ deficit would grow to $1.9 billion in 2015 and $4.1 billion in 2016. And the backlog of bills would also grow to $16.2 billion in 2017.
Quinn hasn’t said whether he’ll push for an extension. Pallasch declined to talk specifics.
“The governor will address the budget in the budget speech,” he said.
The budget address is Feb. 19.
Follow Sophia Tareen at http://twitter.com/sophiatareen .