ILLINOIS (KFVS) - Illinois' budget impasse has ended, but the financial fallout from the two year stand-off continues.
Heartland News sat down with Democratic State Comptroller Susana Mendoza in Alton, Illinois to learn how the first budget in two full years changes things in the state.
Comptroller Mendoza is dealing with Illinois' $15 billion bill backlog, thousands of groups in need of state funding and the looming possibility of a junk bond credit rating.
"We have $15 billion in bills to pay and not enough money to do that," Mendoza said in an interview on Thursday.
As comptroller, Mendoza is charged with writing the checks which will slowly dig Illinois out of debt.
"Illinois should have as its core value that we don't stiff people," said Mendoza. "Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot longer than I would like because we haven't had a budget in two years, and those debts have racked up."
During those two years without a full budget, many groups have not received state funding or have received less than anticipated. How does the comptroller's office decide who gets paid first?
"The first way to tackle that would be to pay the bills which get federal matching dollars," said Mendoza. "That way we get two for one. For every one state dollar we spend, we get a federal matching dollar, and that will allow us to chip away at the backlog a little bit quicker, and also try to tackle those bills generating 12 percent interest penalties so we can stop continuing to hemorrhage taxpayer dollars."
"We need to get the biggest bang for our buck but also keep an eye on working with social service providers and agencies to prevent interruption in their services as well," said Mendoza.
It's a balancing act which Mendoza said has made things all the more difficult. She said state revenues are coming in much slower than groups dependent on state funding need that money to go out.
"We have to continue to be in a triage mode," said Mendoza. "So it's like what do you really need to get by this week? I know we owe you this much, but we only have this much. What's the amount you need to get by for one more week or one more month and we're going to try to make that happen."
Mendoza said the thousands of groups which have waited for payment throughout the budget impasse will have to wait a little longer.
"Yes, it's going to be a while still, because we have not started to collect revenue on the tax increase yet, and it's going to take a few months for the revenues to come in," said Mendoza. "And we haven't been able to go to market yet to address the bill back log."
If the state can go to the bond market and borrow money, it can begin to pay down a portion of the massive bill backlog and Mendoza said that needs to happen soon.
By law, the state must pay interest and late penalties on $15 billion. Mendoza said that adds up to about $2 million in additional debt per day.
"So the sooner we can go to market and we're able to refinance some of that debt at a lower interest the better off tax payers will be," said Mendoza.
Universities, hospitals, vendors and social service agencies will see their overdue payments trickle in a little at a time. However, the comptroller said she still can't tell K-12 schools that the check is in the mail.
"I cannot release a single penny of K-12 until I have legal authority to do it per the budget," said Mendoza. "The legal authority through the budget will come when senate bill one passes."
"And we don't have a lot of time," said Republican state Senator Paul Schimpf.
Sen. Schimpf said when lawmakers passed a budget, the money to fund K-12 schools was directly tied to a bill which has yet to be signed or vetoed by Governor Bruce Rauner.
"Without Senate Bill one being signed - school funding all goes away," said Schimpf.
School districts are already gearing up for a new school year, so Schimpf said the clock is ticking.
"A lot of people thought once we overrode the governor's veto, like it or not, at least we had a budget, but unfortunately there are still some loose ends that need to be tied up."
Mendoza said she is confident Illinois will recover from the budget impasse, but that recovery can't happen overnight.
"I ask people to not lose faith in our state. We have a great state. It has its problems, but our job is to try to fix them," said Mendoza. ''There are reforms needed – but if we can all act like adults, all the legislators, democrats and republicans, I think we can find compromise, true compromise. It's possible, and I'm hopeful."