They’ve asked, pleaded and begged.

Our Illinois Quad-City governments and some businesses are on the phone weekly trying to nudge the cogs of state government to pay up on overdue bills. Elected leaders of all stripes have blasted the state’s decision to use late payments as a tactic in managing Illinois’ unsustainable deficit spending. 

But still it persists.

This week, the Times joins newspapers across Illinois, including our esteemed competitor, The Dispatch/Argus, with a special report quantifying the impact of this awful practice. Read it closely. This series coordinated by the Associated Press clearly documents that this Illinois tactic allows the state to limp along while forcing local governments, schools and business to incur debt.

Here’s an example how it works.

Black Hawk College has a contract that the state will pay for some printing expenses. Black Hawk provided $855.62 of printing for programs under contract to the state from Jan. 10 through March 23 of this year and the bill was approved for payment June 10. Today? Still no dough.

Now, $855 won’t make or break the college. But this debt is part of $2.6 million the state has stiffed our college so far this year. It’s also part of $3 million in similar, nickel-and-dime printing bills the state has systemically delayed.

Overall, it’s part of $2.1 billion statewide in overdue payments at least a month old.

So Black Hawk College, like the rest of the state’s creditors, shuffles money from account to account while awaiting state payment. Imagine trying to manage a household if an employer routinely delayed paychecks indefinitely with no notice. Imagine running a business if customers were permitted to pay, or not, whenever they wanted.

Of course, no household or business would operate that way.

Most Illinois lawmakers, per usual, squawk a bit, then obediently await direction from party leadership. Since Democrats hold majorities in the House and Senate, voters can fairly assess responsibility for this mess. Short of tax increases and repeated calls to expand gambling, Democratic leadership has demonstrated little ability to permanently resolve Illinois’ budget problems.

But we believe this is about more than two parties. Finger-pointing has been the preoccupation that keeps Springfield (and Washington) churning along as if assigning blame was the role of the legislative branch. In the absence of leadership from those constitutionally charged with it, unelected state bureaucrats manage by delaying payments.

This public reporting project is about accountability to taxpayers. This joint project led by the Associated Press gives taxpayers precise information about how much is owed, to whom and for how long.

Armed with precise information, taxpayers should rightfully expect their local lawmakers to explain why they continue to support stiffing 166,000 Illinois cities, counties, businesses and schools, beginning with a simple $855 printing bill due four months ago to Black Hawk College.