Illinois owes $3.5M in past-due utility bills

Illinois owes $3.5M in past-due utility bills

The state government owes the City Water, Light and Power of Springfield $3.5 million on past-due utility bills for state offices. The past-due utility bills are just one part of Illinois’ more than $14.3 billion bill backlog.

State employees may soon be working in the dark if Illinois doesn’t pay the nearly $3.5 million it owes in past-due utility bills. The state began falling behind in utility payments owed to Springfield-area City Water, Light and Power, or CWLP, for state offices in March.

The state’s massive utility bill is just one of the many invoices sitting in the state’s more than $14.3 billion bill backlog. In addition to the utility bills, Illinois owes billions to thousands of different vendors ranging from insurers to service providers.

And though the state is currently millions behind on its Springfield utility bills, it was even worse in 2016. Back then, the state owed about $12 million to CWLP, and received a letter from the utility provider telling the state to pay up or CWLP would turn the lights out by July, according to The State Journal-Register. Eventually, lawmakers agreed to a limited spending plan, which paid the state’s unpaid utility bills.

Moody’s Investors Service, a prominent credit rating agency, predicted in August 2016 that the state’s bill backlog would hit $14 billion by summer 2017, and Illinois’ politicians have proved Moody’s right. Illinois’ massive bill backlog has grown rapidly in recent months. The state currently owes more than $14.3 billion to vendors for services already rendered, up more than $3 billion since the end of 2016 when the backlog was $11 billion.

And CWLP isn’t the only vendor getting stiffed. Service providers wait, on average, a year to be paid. Many agencies have had to close down, waiting for payments from the state. But stiffing service providers is nothing new for Springfield, as Illinois politicians have been doing it since 2002.

Moody’s warned in March 2017 that if Illinois’ budget impasse continued and the state did not start paying its bills, Illinois would risk more credit downgrades. This could result in the Land of Lincoln becoming the country’s first junk-rated state. Illinois already has the worst state credit rating in the nation, and dropping to a junk level would make it even more expensive for the state to borrow money. Taxpayers would likely have to pay higher interest rates than what Illinois pays even now, gobbling up money that could otherwise be spent on human services or core government programs.

Lawmakers need to enact real spending reforms to balance the books, steer clear of junk status and develop policies to tackle Illinois’ long-term debts. And rather than work in the dark, lawmakers should probably pay the electric bill.

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