Textbook Bias: AP Acts As If Illinois's Chronic Delinquency in Paying Its Bills Is a New Development

A Sunday morning report by Associated Press political writer John O'Connor acts as if the the sordid history of fiscal irresponsibility in the State of Illinois is a new development brought on by a stubborn Republican governor in just the past seven months.

What hogwash. The state has had a large backlog of delinquent unpaid bills for a decade, if not longer. Five years ago, a Democratic governor and a Democrat-dominated legislature enacted steep income and property tax increases, promising that the additional taxes raised would enable the state to whittle down the unpaid backlog, solve the state's horrific unfunded pension liabilities problem, and generally right the fiscal ship. Naturally, they did no such thing. O'Connor also didn't find any of the tax or bill-delinquency history worth recounting in his 800-word report. 

Instead, the AP reporter relayed stories of the kinds of hardships caused by the State's delinquency which, though genuinely gut-wrenching, could have and should been covered regularly by the national press during the past several years.

O'Connor's report is so one-sided that he didn't even name any of the leftist politicians in the legislature who refuse to pass a budget the governor would be willing to sign:

BUDGET FIGHT LEAVES ILLINOIS STUCK WITH OVERDUE BILLS

As Illinois politicians continue to squabble over a budget that should have taken effect July 1, hundreds of state contractors have been left with little more than I.O.U.s, according to more than 500 pages of documents - just since Nov. 1 - released to The Associated Press under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

From a $28.44 late-notice water and sewer bill at the 1848 Mt. Pulaski Courthouse - which had neither when Abraham Lincoln practiced law there - to $4.8 million that Illinois owes Michigan for a health partnership, vendors have flooded the Capitol with disconnect warnings, credit-hold notices, desperate pleas and even a frowny face stamp in an effort to get paid.

The state owes $2 million to Ashley's Quality Care in Chicago, which provides in-home care workers to keep seniors out of nursing homes, according to chief accountant Michael Robinson. The company has not met its payroll for 14 weeks, forcing the departure of 40 percent of its previous 1,000 employees; clientele has dipped by one-third, to 800, slicing revenue.

"You go from affecting a company, to its employees, to the clients, to the social well-being of the community," Robinson said.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, insistent on pro-business changes to boost commerce, can't agree on an annual spending plan with Democrats who control the Legislature. They oppose his conservative agenda, saying a multibillion-dollar deficit needs tax-increase and spending-cut triage.

"No one is more frustrated about the lack of a budget than Gov. Rauner," said his spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly. "Bills could be paid if the Democratic majority in the Legislature worked with the governor to pass structural reforms and a balanced budget."

Let's compare this to the press's reporting of the fiscal showdown in Washington in October 2013, shall we?

In 2013, according to Washington's establishment press and pundits, it was Republicans in the House of Representatives, in the legislative branch, who caused the government shutdown. That's funny, because they were the ones who passed budgets which would keep the government operating, while Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama refused to consider any budget not conforming to their wishes.

But in 2015-2016, Republican Governor Rauner is refusing to sign a budget which goes against his wishes (and a once considered noble desire to save the state from insolvency), and it's his fault that the State is where it is. And of course, Rauner is the one O'Connor tagged with having a "conservative agenda," while not labeling recalitrant Democrats in any way.

The bolded paragraph above about Ashley's Quality Care demonstrates that Democrats would rather compromise seniors' care and see employees thrown out on the streets than pass a budget the Governor will sign.

Let's review some unpaid bills history the AP's O'Connor ignored:

(in a March 2014 NewsBusters post)

"The state has an unpaid bills backlog of $5.8 billion, meaning that vendors are going months before they get paid. We're supposed to be thrilled that this total is down from $8.8 billion several years ago."

(in a February 2013 NewsBusters post)

A left-leaning watchdog group warned, a year before Rauner took office, that "Unpaid General Funds bills are expected to increase to $18.9 billion at the end of FY2018 from $4.3 billion at the end of FY2013."

(in an October 2011 NewsBusters post)

... "the state of Illinois defers billions of dollars of payments to vendors by four or more months because, despite 67% and 46% increases in personal and business income taxes, respectively, it still doesn't have the money to come even close to staying current."

... (an AP report conveniently filed on a Saturday reported that) "As of early last month, the state owed on 166,000 unpaid bills worth a breathtaking $5 billion."

(in a  December 2008 Associated Press report)

"Illinois has billions of dollars in unpaid bills, including payments to Medicaid patients, hospitals, pharmacies, nursing homes, and schools ..."

(From early 2008, via Gatehouse News Service)

"Illinois ended 2007 with a record amount of unpaid bills, Comptroller Dan Hynes' office said in a report issued Monday. According to Hynes' office, the backlog of outstanding bills stood at more than $1.7 billion. At the same time last year, the number was $1.33 billion. Moreover, it now is taking the office 34 business days to pay bills once they come in the door, compared to 22 days a year ago."

Only 34 days late? Vendors doing business with the State of Illinois must consider 2007, relatively speaking, to be "the good old days."

So over a decade of left-dominated governance (Democrat Rod Blagojevich became Governor in 2003) brought on a serious unpaid bills problem. It became a virtual crisis by 2014 under Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The crisis remains, exacerbated by a budget standoff between a governor who actually wants to do something about it and a legislature which wants to pretend that it can still tax its way to a solution — even after the steep taxes enacted five years ago failed to do that.

How the Associated Press could feel that John O'Connor's report sufficiently informed its readers and subscribers is beyond me.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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