Deadbeat state: Ill. owes billions in unpaid bills

October 16, 2011 • Business

ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY OCT. 16, 2011–FILE – In this Aug. 18, 2011 file photo, Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka participates in a rally during Republican Day at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield. With the state billions of dollars behind in paying its debt, collecting on unpaid bills can be a torturous, confusing process, and the rules for who gets paid and how quickly are not always followed. Even state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, whose office is in charge of paying the bills, acknowledges the system isn’t fair. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Drowning in deficits, Illinois has turned to a deliberate policy of not paying billions of dollars in bills for months at a time, creating a cycle of hardship and sacrifice for residents and businesses helping the state carry out some of the most important government tasks.

Once intended as a stop-gap, the months-long delay in paying bills has now become a regular part of the state’s budget management, forcing businesses and charity groups to borrow money, cut jobs and services and take on personal debt. Getting paid can be such a confusing process that it requires begging the state for money and sometimes has more to do with knowing the right people than being next in line.

As of early last month, the state owed on 166,000 unpaid bills worth a breathtaking $5 billion, with nearly half of that amount more than a month overdue and hundreds of bills dating back to 2010, according to an Associated Press analysis of state documents.

The true backlog is even higher because some bills have not yet been approved for payment and officially added to the tally. This includes the Illinois health care agency, which says it is sitting on about $1.9 billion in bills from Medicaid providers because there’s no money to pay it.

While other states with budget problems have delayed paying their bills, the backlog in Illinois is Login to read more

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