SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (KSDK) - Bills. We all have them, even if we don't like them.
Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to pay? That's standard procedure in the state of Illinois. The I-Team's Leisa Zigman digs deep into Illinois' bills.
Just how much the state has not paid is staggering, as is just how much tax money has been wasted when Illinois' bills are not paid on time.
Right now, the state of Illinois owes more than $9 billion in unpaid bills. What are the consequences? Apparently, not much. Last year, taxpayers dished out more than $86 million in late fees because state agencies could not pay their bills on time.
Judy Baar Topinka is the state comptroller. The Republican is the one who pays the state's bills. When she doesn't, "We try and parse as much as we can to put some money here, some money there to try and hold it all together with bailing wire and bubble gum," she sa.
Illinois is bound by what's called the Prompt Payment Act. If it doesn't pay bills within 60 days, it has to pay interest.
And yes, in 2012 alone, that added up to more than $86 million. According to Topinka, that puts Illinois at the bottom of the list, nationwide.
"We're probably 49 to 50 when it comes to unpaid bills," says Topinka. "What we owe just in bills, payments on bills could be like the whole budget for a foreign country, you know, if you stop and think about it."
The Department of Healthcare and Family Services has the biggest chunk, more than $80 million. That is because federal stimulus for Medicaid dried up, leaving Illinois to foot the bill. But the bigger budget problem, the $9 billion the state owes businesses, schools and more, is tied to the state pension crisis. The state's public pension plans are in the hole nearly $100 billion and counting.
"Every day that we wait to fix our pension problem, which jacks up at $17 million a day, so every day we wait, it gets worse," says Topinka.
We asked to interview the director of Healthcare and Family Services, which is responsible for more than 90 percent of the state's late payments. The agency sent us this statement:
"While many providers are waiting several months for reimbursement, HFS prioritizes payments to the extent possible for higher volume Medicaid providers (those providers with over 50 percent of their business generated through services to Medicaid clients). In other words, we try to target our limited cash resources to those providers serving the highest volume of Medicaid clients first.
"Our ability to make payments in a timely manner is hampered by the state's historic fiscal crisis. HFS worked with the General Assembly last year to make a number of very difficult spending reductions. And the administration of Governor Quinn has worked diligently to cut overall state spending levels down to 2008 levels over the last four years. However, until we address the structural deficit caused by the pension crisis, we are not going to have the resources to adequately fund priorities like healthcare, education, public safety and many other vital state programs. The interest payments on unpaid bills are one more reason why it is critical that we pass pension reform."
Missouri also must pay interest if the state pays bills late but to give you an idea of how big of a problem this is in Illinois, Missouri paid less than $600 in late fees in all of 2012.
What can be done? Comptroller Topinka suggests contacting your representative and urging them to take action to fix the pension problem.
To find your legislative district, check THIS ILLINOIS PRECINCT MAP.
Here are the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of the state senators and representatives in our southern Illinois viewing area:
Senator William Haine (D), 56th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-5247
District Office: (618) 465-4764
Senator James Clayborne, Jr. (D), 57th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-5399
District Office: (618) 875-1212
Senator Kyle McCarter (R), 54th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-5755
District Office: (618) 283-3000
Senator David Luechtefeld (R), 58th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-8137
District Office: (618) 243-9014
Senator William Sam McCann (R), 50th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-8206
Senator Andy Manar (D), 48th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-0228
District Office: (618) 635-2583
Representative Daniel Beiser (D), 111th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-5996
District Office: (618) 465-5900
Representative Jay Hoffman (D), 113th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-0104
District Office: (618) 394-2211
Representative Dwight Kay (R), 112th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-8018
District Office: (618) 307-9200
Representative Eddie Lee Jackson, Sr. (D), 114th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-5951
District Office: (618) 875-9950
Representative Jerry Costello (D), 116th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-1018
District Office: (618) 282-7284
Representative Charles Meier (R), 108th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-6401
District Office: (618) 651-0405
Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer (R), 100th District
Springfield Office: (217) 782-1840
District Office: (217) 243-6221