CHICAGO (AP) — Illinois’ backlog of unpaid bills will reach nearly $22 billion within five years if lawmakers don’t take action to fix the state’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis, according to an analysis released Monday by a Chicago-based watchdog group.
The report from the Civic Federation notes some improvement since last year, when it was forecasting a $35 billion backlog in overdue bills. The improved outlook is largely because of $1.6 billion in Medicaid cuts Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law last year.
But the overall financial picture remains dire, with annual payments toward Illinois’ $97 billion unfunded pension liability threatening to “swamp all of state government,” Civic Federation President Laurence Msall said.
This year, the state’s annual pension payment is about $5.1 billion, or roughly 22.1 percent of the state’s general fund. The payment will grow to $7 billion — or nearly 31 percent of all general funds — by 2018 without pension reform, the analysis found.
That would mean even less money would be available for the state to pay its bills.
Currently, the backlog is $7.8 billion. An increase to $21.7 billion by 2018 could mean health care providers, nursing homes and other vendors would be waiting more than a year to be paid, Msall said. That raises the question of whether they would be able to keep their doors open or continue to provide services such as health care for state employees and retirees.
“No one knows if the state will be able to continue to operate under that scenario,” Msall said.
The report comes about a week before Quinn is scheduled to present his budget for the next fiscal year. Projections issued by his budget office last month showed the growing pension costs would result in a cut of about $400 million for education. It also projected cuts for public safety and economic development.
The Chicago Democrat has said pension reform is his top priority — a refrain echoed by other top lawmakers. But legislators remain unable to agree on how to fix the problem.
Msall said Monday they should be working to “immediately” address the issue.