By KEVIN BESSLER
The Center Square
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said the state’s financial condition is moving in the right direction despite a structural deficit, multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and one of the highest unfunded pension liabilities in the nation.
During a virtual conversation last week with Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Mendoza said that wasn’t the case last year when things looked dire when the COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in tax collections.
“That is why we had to rely on borrowing from the Federal Reserve at a lower rate just to get us through April and May, which typically would be our best months,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said when she took office, the state had a backlog in bills totaling over $16 billion, which she adds is considerably lower now.
Mendoza said Illinoisans are paying enormous property taxes, adding that Illinois is not taking in enough revenue. That's a point of contention with Republicans, who say the state is spending too much money in the wrong places.
“One of the reasons why your property taxes are so high is because the state of Illinois, because of a structural deficit, does not have enough money to invest in education at the level that we’re supposed to,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza did not comment on the news that a third state legislator has filed a lawsuit against Illinois arguing he is entitled to pay raises from years past.
Mike Fortner, a former Republican representative, who voted against the pay raises while in office, is seeking back pay for himself and all current and former state lawmakers. His lawyers argue Fortner’s previous votes to block his own pay raises were unconstitutional because they changed his salary during the middle of a term.
In an earlier statement, Mendoza called the suit “an ill-advised class(less) action lawsuit” that could expose Illinois taxpayers to millions in dollars in additional liability.
Her office estimates the lawsuit could cost the state more than $10 million if the court’s rule in Fortner’s favor.
Mendoza applauded a provision included in the ethics bill that prohibits lawmakers from collecting a whole month’s pay after resigning on the first day of the month.
“Waitresses and factory workers don’t collect a month’s pay for a day’s work, and legislators don’t deserve that luxury on the back of taxpayers,” Mendoza said.
Republicans don't agree with the state's spending plans.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the Democrats’ priorities in the budget were giving Democrats a billion dollars in pork projects, a pay increase and a doubling of the allotment for district offices. He said taxpayers are fed up, as was evident by the failure of the progressive income tax last year.
It was “thoroughly rejected by Democrats, independents and Republicans,” Durkin said. “That was an indictment on Governor Pritzker and Democrats’ spending priorities over the past many years.”