ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK
A state lawmaker says the impetus to audit the state’s backlog of unpaid bills is even greater now that Gov. Bruce Rauner announced borrowing to pay down the high cost debt.
Rauner ordered his office to sell $6 billion in bonds as a way to pay down some of the more than $15 billion bill backlog the state owes vendors. The governor is hoping for a lower interest rate.
State Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, said following the governor’s announcement, “of course we want a better interest rate, but if we’re going to bond out this debt, if we’re going to add more debt to pay off this debt, I want to know where this money is going.”
Truth In Accounting Research Director Bill Bergman said it’s unclear if the interest rate will really be lower than it is now, at 9 to 12 percent.
“It’s hard to know the possible savings from this initiative,” Bergman said. “The cost of carry for the bill backlog versus the cost of the new borrowing is not an easy thing to understand.”
However, Bergman said paying the bills will allow for a more transparent and cleaner reporting of the debt.
“As opposed to being funded by your suppliers,” Bergman said, “as Illinois has been for years, this is a way to make the debt more explicit and understandable, which is an advantage.”
Still, Skillicorn wants and independent audit of the debt.
“I think taxpayers deserve to know if these are going to patronage projects,” Skillicorn said. “If this is all on the up and up. I demand an audit.”
Skilicorn questioned whether all of the past-due bills are legitimate.
“When there was analysis that most of this debt was in Cook County and Chicago, I’m just suspect to where it’s going,” Skillicorn said. “Are these all legitimate vendors? Are these all legitimate contractors? Is this all for the public good? Was this part of more patronage, more of the Chicago Machine taking advantage and basically milking taxpayers?”
Skillicorn said he’ll put pressure on fellow lawmakers and the governor to follow suit and ensure legitimate bills are being paid, but doesn’t think Auditor General Frank Mautino should be the one to do the audit.
“The Auditor General doesn’t have a reputation of honesty himself,” Skillicorn said, noting an ongoing federal investigation surrounding Mautino’s time as a state lawmaker, “and there’s quite a few questions about [Mautino’s] campaign spending. I think this should be an outside forensic audit.”
Rauner’s statement Thursday said the state “has been, in effect, borrowing from local service providers, including nonprofits and small businesses, because it takes months for them to get paid.”
Bergman said the state has another huge area the state has been borrowing from with a growing backlog is the state’s mounting pension and retiree healthcare debt he said has been neglected to the tune of more than $210 billion and growing.