Herald-Whig

Illinois makes baby steps toward healing finances

Posted: Aug. 12, 2018 12:01 am

CHECKS to cover back pay for Illinois state workers, dating back to 2011, are now being issued.

Lawmakers have called this the oldest debt on the state's books and approved $63 million in this year's budget to catch up on delinquent pay. More funding will be needed to erase the debt.

Let's be clear. The fact that this payroll obligation was not handled sooner is more than a little troubling. It's hard to get excited about catching up on pay that's been owed for seven years.

This is a baby step forward.

Perhaps the best that can be said is that it's good to know workers will finally get their back pay and the state can continue the slow march toward healing its badly damaged finances.

Back in 2011, then Gov. Pat Quinn said the state did not have spending authority to meet 2 percent raises. Quinn blamed the Legislature for not appropriating enough in the budget. Lawmakers said it was Quinn's responsibility to use his limited budgetary discretion to come up with the money.

Nobody showed leadership. Nobody found a solution. Instead, there was a lot of finger pointing.

Then came almost three years without approval of a full budget plan and more finger pointing.

Now that the state has a budget for a second year in a row, the payroll backlog is being paid.

It's a minor victory, but we'll take it.

Other metrics show there has been some improvement in the state's financial state. Last month, Moody's Investors Service gave Illinois its first stable outlook since December 2012. It wasn't enough to raise the state's general obligation bond rating of Baa3, but it kept it from slipping to junk bond status.

Illinois still has a $6.8 billion backlog in payments to vendors and service providers. That is a big improvement over the $11 billion backlog a little more than a year ago. There's a long way to go in healing the state's financial woes, but there are signs of progress.

Rep. Randy Frese, R-Paloma, had not yet become a member of the Illinois House when the payroll financing issue first arose in 2011. But when asked about the issue by The Herald-Whig he said lawmakers "inherit" issues and must be prepared to fix problems regardless of when or how they occurred.

"The state needs to pay its obligations," Frese said.

We agree. And without finger pointing, we urge Legislators, the governor, agency directors and the voters to insist on fixing the state's finances.

Mistakes have been made in the past. That's history and nobody can change it.

What is needed is a plan moving forward and the political will to fix things.