DAVID SCHAPER: I'm David Schaper in Chicago.
And I'm standing in a vast atrium of the state of Illinois' state government building, downtown Chicago. And that echo that you hear is pretty much what it would sound like if I was standing in the state's vault because it's empty.
Mr. DANIEL HYNES (State Comptroller, Illinois): Oh, it's not only empty but we have $1.2 billion in bills we can't pay right now, today.
SCHAPER: Illinois comptroller Dan Hynes says the state official whose job is to sign the checks and pay those bills.
Mr. HYNES: For the fourth consecutive year, you know, we're at the bottom, and the economy is only going to make the situation worse.
SCHAPER: Hynes says Illinois' lawmakers and governor have a bad habit of approving budgets they say are balanced but really spend more money than comes in. What they do is delay paying some state bills until the next fiscal year. On top of that, revenue coming into Illinois this year is falling far short of predictions to the tune of at least $750 million — a figure that is likely to grow, add to that soaring Medicaid costs and a huge unfunded pension liability, well, you get the picture.
Lise Valentine is with the non-partisan budget watchdog group, The Civic Federation of Chicago.
Ms. LISE VALENTINE (Vice President and Director of Research, The Civic Federation of Chicago): Well, this is really a climate that calls for restraint that does not call for expansion; it calls for holding the line on your current expenses and trying to find ways to even bring more efficiencies out of what you're doing right now.
SCHAPER: But that doesn't appear to be what's happening.
Ms. VALENTINE: Thank you so much for coming out and we are awaiting many of the other legislators that will be coming aboard with us.
SCHAPER: The Illinois House has been holding budget hearings across the state as hundreds of constituents beg lawmakers to spend more, not less, on education and human services. Stepping outside one hearing this week, South Side Chicago State Representative Marlow Colvin says the biggest problem is really politics.
State Representative MARLOW COLVIN (Democrat, 33rd District, Chicago, Illinois): It's the high temperature of all the political infighting that's going on Springfield right now.
SCHAPER: Marlow says like in California, relations between Illinois' governor and legislative leaders are strained, but here they're all Democrats. Last year's budget wasn't settled until well into August even though the fiscal year began in July and it's still not balanced. It already looks like Illinois lawmakers will be grappling with this budget deficit well into the summer.
David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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