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Illinois’ past-due bills fall to $7.6 billion

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(AP photo)
Lawmakers work toward passing pension legislation on the House floor during session Dec. 3 at the Illinois State Capitol. The state will end the year with $7.6 billion in unpaid bills, a 15 percent reduction from a year earlier, officials said Monday.

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois will end 2013 with $7.6 billion in unpaid bills, a 15 percent reduction from a year earlier, officials said Monday.

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had estimated the backlog would be closer to the $9 billion owed at the end of 2012. But an unexpected $1.3 billion infusion of tax receipts last spring helped, The Rockford Register-Star reported.

Still, 2014 doesn’t promise to bring much relief. For years, not-for-profits and other state contractors have come to count on faster payment in the spring when tax revenues are strong, but they expect to wait longer in the winter months when revenues have slowed and money has been spent for other budget matters.

“That’s been the discernible pattern now for several years, and it’s not changing this year,” said Steven Langley, chief executive officer of Stepping Stones, a housing and treatment center for clients with severe behavior and mental health issues.

Some might expect relief now that lawmakers finally adopted a plan for reforming the way government employees are provided retirement pensions. The package as approved would cut benefits and ensure government pays its share to save $160 million over 30 years.

But it doesn’t take effect until next year, and any savings wouldn’t occur for several years down the road. And before it can take effect, retired teachers and other educators have filed a lawsuit challenging the measure’s constitutionality.

“There are simply too many unknowns right now,” Topinka spokesman Brad Hahn said.

Organizations such as Stepping Stones in the meantime are preparing for a switch to managed-care programs for Medicaid clients. Instead of billing the state for Medicaid-covered services, they will send invoices to a for-profit managed-care company and expect payment within a month.

“That would take a lot of stress off us,” Langley said.

The downside is they expect to get paid less for the services they provide.

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