- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - The state comptroller estimates that Illinois will have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in interest for overdue bills.

Illinois’ stack of unpaid bills is expected to hit $15 billion by July, thanks to the 18-month budget impasse between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled Legislature, the Chicago Tribune (https://trib.in/2juWKuk ) reported.

The comptroller’s office, which is now led by Democrat Susana Mendoza, estimated the state will need to pay $700 million in interest, based on what it’s spending in the current budget year.

Rauner’s budget office has declined to provide a specific estimate, saying it “cannot speculate” on future expenses.

Senate leaders tried to push a plan last week to borrow billions of dollars to limit interest payments, but a vote never happened amid opposition from labor groups.

“From a taxpayer standpoint and from any kind of reasonably good government standpoint, you would not plan to incur penalties for failing to pay known bills every year,” said Laurence Msall, president of the government research group Civic Federation. “Illinois has become addicted to a bad habit.”

The Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a bipartisan panel providing lawmakers with financial information and projections, said the state owes at least $370 million alone in interest on state employee health care bills during the stalemate.

“We are looking at hundreds of millions of dollars in late interest payment penalties. That’s money that’s never going to be invested in health care or early childhood development or in higher ed,” Mendoza said.

Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly said Mendonza, who served 10 years in the Illinois House, was being misleading and should join in “a constructive conversation about how to fix our broken system and truly balance the budget.”

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, https://www.chicagotribune.com

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