Comptroller Dan Hynes has all but ruled out any additional short term borrowing by the state to ease the enormous backlog of unpaid bills. Meeting Wednesday with the State Journal-Register editorial board, Hynes said borrowing more money in the short term now will only exacerbate payment delays next spring when the state must begin repaying the loans.
Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes has all but ruled out any additional short-term borrowing by the state to ease the enormous backlog of unpaid bills.
Meeting Wednesday with the State Journal-Register editorial board, Hynes said borrowing more money in the short term now will only exacerbate payment delays next spring when the state must begin repaying the loans.
He stopped short of issuing a flat "no" to the idea of no more borrowing, but he also did not lay out any formula in which additional borrowing will be acceptable.
"I don't think we can afford to borrow any more," Hynes said.
Hynes, a Democrat, is running for governor against fellow Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn.
Quinn wants to borrow $500 million, half of which would be used to pay Medicaid bills and the rest applied to other bills. Hynes said Medicaid bills are already being paid promptly without borrowing more money because receipt of federal stimulus money requires it. Applying the other $250 million to a backlog of over $4 billion won't do much to speed payments, he said. Hynes called it a "symbolic gesture" that will backfire next spring when the loan has to be repaid leaving less money to pay bills then.
Quinn, Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias all must sign off on a borrowing plan for it to proceed. Quinn previously criticized Hynes for withholding his approval and his campaign repeated that criticism Wednesday.
"During this holiday season, people are suffering and human service agencies are laying off workers and closing their doors because Comptroller Hynes has chosen to play politics with short term borrowing that he routinely approved in the past" said campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Austin in an e-mailed response. "With social service agencies desperate for these funds today, the comptroller has changed his position and is no longer willing to do what is needed. It is regrettable that the comptroller would put his political ambitions ahead of the needs of so many people across Illinois in these difficult times."
Hynes said he is doing what he feels is best for the state's fiscal health, even if paying down the bill backlog might garner good publicity.
"I don't base my decision on what will make me more popular," he said.
Further, he said, the state's cash crunch will ease a bit in January, when the state plans to issue bonds to cover pension payments.
Hynes complained that the Quinn administration repeatedly changed details of the borrowing plan, leaving him leery about signing off on it.
"They don't know what they are talking about. They don't know what they are doing," Hynes said of Quinn's budget team.
Hynes also said he thinks lawmakers are ready to vote next spring to put his graduated income tax plan on the November ballot. A graduated income tax requires a change in the Illinois Constitution, which must be approved by voters. However, the General Assembly must first agree to put the issue on the ballot.
Hynes said he is convinced the public understands that "we are in an untenable situation where cuts (alone) will not do it."
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.