GALESBURG — Gov. Pat Quinn’s office announced the state’s backlog of bills dropped to $3.6 billion after paying back $300 million in old bills this week. It was at $10 billion four years ago.
“Making the tough decisions has moved Illinois forward,” Gov. Quinn said in a statement in July. “Today Illinois is in a stronger financial position than we were five years ago and we have more work to do to continue moving our finances in the right direction.”
However, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka’s website reports the backlog is at $5.4 billion, and increasing.
Quinn’s office did not indicate why the difference is so great between the two offices.
However, if the state income tax is scaled back to 3.75 percent as it is set to this January, the state could find itself adding up the debt again.
State Rep. Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, stood with his fellow Republicans this past spring, calling for Quinn to keep his word on keeping the income tax temporary.
Today, he still feels it is the state’s responsibility to keep its promise, but he wants to modify the plan a bit.
“There probably needs to be a graduated phase-down,” Moffitt said. “The General Assembly is at fault for not bringing spending down after the temporary tax was approved.”
In 2011, lawmakers passed the tax increase with the understanding the tax would scale back four years later. In Quinn’s budget address he set the tone for the rest of the political year by announcing his intentions to keep the tax permanent.
Moffitt’s colleague, state Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, agreed that the Legislature didn’t do its job in keeping spending down, but said she doesn’t think the tax should be extended or gradually rolled back as Moffitt has proposed.
“Why would I ask someone to trust me to spend their tax dollars when we didn’t over the four years of the tax increase?” Hammond said.
Moffitt’s plan would be to extend the income tax for another year, but at a slightly lower rate.
“I’d say we can extend it for another year but drop it to 4.75 percent or 4.5 percent for a mild decrease,” Moffitt said.
For Moffitt, the extra year with a higher tax softens the blow of lost revenue. He noted that the bond ratings could decrease drastically if the state lost the revenue in one motion.
“We want to be careful that, if it simply ends, it could negatively affect our bond rating,” Moffitt said.
In the extra year, Moffitt wants to find natural ways to raise revenue, and hopes the extra time will allow for exploration, along with budget cuts.
One area in particular he said he wants to trim out of the budget is Medicaid exploitation.
“Now there are people that need to be on there, and we want them to be,” Moffitt said. “However, we know there is some abuse and we haven’t done enough to fix that.”
Scrubbing the Medicaid rolls has been a target of Republicans, especially with the added users from the Affordable Care Act.
Whether or not the income tax will even be discussed will have to wait until after the election. The legislature isn’t expected to meet in its fall veto session until after the election.
“Whoever is elected will have a lot to say on this,” Moffitt said.
Quinn wants to make the income tax hike permanent, while his opponent, GOP businessman Bruce Rauner, is campaigning on keeping the tax temporary.
Hammond said there hasn’t been any discussion on a middle-ground compromise.
“We’ve heard ‘make it permanent,’ or ‘let it expire,’?” Hammond said.
Marty Hobe: (309) 343-7181, ext. 214; firstname.lastname@example.org; @mhobe55