Greising: Illinois Needs To Rely on the Right Voices To Get Its Financial House in Order

The tension between spending and discipline is coming to a head as leaders in the legislature and the Pritzker administration focus on how to make the most of $8.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.

Susana Medoza, Addressing OpenGovChicago Meetup at the Chicago Cultural Center on November 14, 2013. (Daniel X. O'Neil/Flickr)

BGA President David Greising writes every other week for the Chicago Tribune Opinion section.

In her first days on the job in December 2016, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza grabbed the purse strings of a state in the midst of a fiscal unraveling.

The “rainy day” fund in Illinois stood at $60,000, enough to run the state for just a matter of minutes. In the middle of a 17-month budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills was on a steep climb toward $16.7 billion in overdue IOUs.

The state’s unfunded pension liabilities were rising toward $145 billion, and credit rating agencies were on a run of eight straight rating downgrades that ultimately would leave Illinois one notch above “junk” status.

Fast forward five years. Mendoza has whittled down the bill backlog to $3.8 billion and is paying bills within 15 days. Illinois was the only U.S. state to borrow from the federal government’s Municipal Liquidity Facility at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but Mendoza repaid a $2 billion debt two years early, avoiding $82 million in interest payments.

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