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I Team Report: Illinois' debt puts agencies, programs at risk

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Despite MLK Day and the inaugural events, Monday was no holiday for dismal financial news in Illinois.

While some of Illinois' top democrats attended inaugural events in Washington on Monday, the state went deeper and deeper into debt, State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka told the I Team.

Illinois owes agencies, vendors and others almost $7 billion. As of Monday, the state government has more than 210,000 unpaid bills, Topinka said.

In less than six months, Illinois will not have enough money to provide critical services for hundreds of thousands of people, according to Topinka.

"This really bothers me. I'm losing sleep over it. The governor, after he gets back from the hoopla of the inauguration- it's all fun and frolic- you've got to come back here and work with me on this and it can't be taxing and it can't be borrowing. It has to be the reserves, set aside some money and make it happen," said Topinka.

Topinka, a republican, said that if the governor and general assembly fail to come up with more than $1 billion, critical state services will be cut.

She says the programs and agencies at risk include a major state health insurance fund, along with workers comp funding. The Community Care and Home Services Programs for Seniors and People with Disabilities is also in danger, and DCFS needs $25 million or will face staff layoffs.

"These agencies help the old, the sick, the lame... All the agencies that help the most vulnerable people, they are going to run out of money," said Topinka.

The comptroller says if enough government agencies cut their budgets by 10 percent, that money could be used to curtail a collapse of others.

"So you can't just hang a sign on their door saying 'gone fishing,' or we're done and walk away, you cannot do this. You know it's coming," said Topinka.

The new Illinois House returns January 30, while the Illinois Senate returns February 5th. They will face the same funding questions that the last general assembly failed to answer- including how to reduce a nearly $100 billion pension debt.

In the meantime, thousands of the state's bills remain unpaid.

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