Illinois Department of Central Management owed a whopping $5.8 billion in bills as of June 30. That was three months ago. That number's surely ballooned since then.
The fact that Illinois taxpayers have to wonder at all is the real issue.
End the surprises. Override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the Debt Transparency Act (DTA).
The CMS backlog is just a a third of the state's compounding debt, which tripled over Springfield's pointless two-year budget stalemate, according to Comptroller Susana Mendoza. The interest alone is nearing $1 billion, reports Chicago Tribune. According to detailed accounting statements, CMS owes roughly $5 billion. As for the other $800 million, well, your guess is as good as ours.
Interest and late fees probably make up the bulk of it.
Make no mistake, this week's release of Illinois' debt is a political windfall for Mendoza. She's championed DTA from start to finish. Her office built a bipartisan coalition earlier this year in the General Assembly, which passed the legislation that would require state agencies to report bills every month. As it stands, agencies must only report bills annually.
But political agendas alone do not necessitate bad policy. The jaw-dropping figures do bolster Mendoza's political position when the General Assembly's veto session gavels in later this month.
It's utter madness. So, too, was Rauner's veto message essentially arguing that monthly debt reporting is just too much work. That, alone, is a striking, nonsensical argument from a pro-business Republican governor who made countless millions in the private sector. No corporate board would suffer such lax bookkeeping. No CEO with any interest in working for investors would permit such an egregious waste of cash.
No business would last long with accounting practices similar to Illinois, where debts -- and interest -- pile up behind closed doors.
And yet, Rauner, a veracious business tycoon, expects taxpayers to foot the bill for a system that keeps the public in the dark while blowing its money on interest payments.
In August, Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savannah, pledged that she would buck Rauner and vote to override his veto, during a meeting with the editorial board. Hers will be a key vote, as a two-thirds majority is required in both the House and Senate to erase Rauner's veto. We expect McCombie to hold fast and stick by her word. Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, should follow suit. McCombie and other Republicans have reason to feel emboldened to challenge Rauner's vetoes. Fact is, he was a primary architect of a shameful budget impasse that accomplished precisely nothing. He held school funding hostage for months, caved and, now, is rewriting history to claim some kind of victory.
That political reality looks to be setting in among General Assembly Republicans. Republican state Rep. Dave McSweeney just this week signed on as a co-sponsor to DTA. Senate Republicans should, too, shed party allegiance and instead let state interests inform their vote.
DTA is much more than just common sense. It's a basic practice that would keep the public informed about how its money is spent. It's standard procedure in the very private sector which Rauner has said should be the model for state operation.
Yes, DTA would require more work among bureaucrats and agency czars. It would increase scrutiny of state finances among the public and General Assembly.
It would, finally, permit those managing Illinois' purse strings an accurate glimpse of just how bad things have gotten under their watch.