Veto override requires monthly accounting of Illinois bills

Illinois state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, accompanied by State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, speaks to reporters at the state Capitol in Springfield Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. Mendoza spoke after the Senate voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of a "debt-transparency act" that the Democratic comptroller pushed to help her plan for paying down a $16.7 billion backlog of old bills. Sen. Manar sponsored the measure, The measure, which becomes law on Jan. 1, requires state agencies to report to the comptroller on a monthly basis what bills they've incurred, instead of annually. Mendoza also announced she would begin using $6 billion in bond-sale funds to pay down a chunk of the backlog. (AP Photo by John O'Connor)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Government agencies in Illinois will be required to report monthly on all bills they've incurred, after senators overwhelmingly reversed Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto Wednesday of a measure the state's check-writing official advocated as a critical step toward digging out of massive debt.

Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza pushed the plan, arguing it would help her prioritize debt payments as the state faces a $16.7 billion mass of overdue bills. In vetoing it, the Republican governor argued his political rival was trying to "micromanage" his budgeting authority, and he later expressed concern the proposal could ultimately lead to even more spending.

Nearly all lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly sided with Mendoza on the question. The Senate, without discussion, overrode Rauner's veto of the "debt transparency act" by a 52-3 vote, two weeks after the House voted 112-0 to reject the veto. The measure takes effect Jan. 1.

Mendoza also announced Wednesday that she has begun using billions of dollars the state borrowed to pay off big chunks of that debt, built during a two-year budget stalemate between Rauner and legislative Democrats.

The reporting law updates the current requirement, which calls for state agencies to report annually in October on bills they had on hand as of June 30. Mendoza said that information is critically out of date.

Monthly reporting would have told lawmakers sooner that during the two-year budget impasse, the administration had spent $2.8 billion that the Legislature hadn't even authorized. That fact wasn't publicized until officials borrowed $6 billion through bond sales to pay down the backlog.

"That will put a curb on future reckless deficit spending like what we've seen," Mendoza told reporters after the vote.

A spokeswoman for Rauner's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The monstrous backlog is one distasteful legacy of the budget standoff, the nation's longest of any state since at least the Great Depression. It ended in July when Democrats adopted an income-tax increase and annual budget over Rauner's vetoes.

Mendoza said she would start making major payments on the backlog with $6 billion raised by a sale of state bonds that Rauner authorized.

Despite Illinois' worst-in-the-nation credit rating, it borrowed the money at a favourable 3.5 per cent. That's decidedly lower than the 12 per cent annually owed on about one-third of the backlog subject to late-payment interest penalties. The state already owes about $900 million in penalties alone.

She said about $2.5 billion would be paid Wednesday evening on outstanding Medicaid health care bills. Nearly $4 billion will cover unpaid state health insurance claims owed to medical providers by early next week.

During the coming weeks, Mendoza expects to receive a little more than $2 billion in federal matching funds go toward additional state medical bills.

That would leave about $1.3 billion in medical bills still subject to late-payment interest which will need to be addressed, Mendoza said.

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The bill is HB3649 .

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Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/john%20o'connor

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