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Comptroller Topinka discusses Illinois' fiscal problems in Huntley

Published: Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 3:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Sept. 23, 2013 11:06 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com )
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka is greeted by her public affairs manager Rich Carter on Monday before an event in Huntley at Pinecrest Restaurant.

HUNTLEY – Judy Baar Topinka told members of the Huntley Chamber of Commerce and other area elected officials Monday to remind their constituents that she is the state comptroller, not the air traffic controller.

“Oftentimes they hear the word ‘comptroller,’ they think I have an air force or I hang out at O’Hare or something,” Topinka said.

Speaking about Illinois’ bleak fiscal situation at Pinecrest Restaurant in Huntley, Topinka described the event as “kind of like being at your own funeral.” She injected humor when she could, but she took the time to lay out the serious issues facing the state of Illinois.

Illinois has 89,000 unpaid bills totaling $5.1 billion. Topinka said that if you add bills that are pilling up at state agencies that haven’t reached her office, that number jumps to $7.5 billion. And the number could be closer to $9 billion by the end of the year, she said.

“When you’re paying your bills tonight, give me a thought, because I’ve got 89,000 of those little suckers that I have to pay,” she said.

The state has had 13 credit downgrades since March 2009 and has the worst credit score in the nation, said Topinka, adding that Illinois is about 1 or 2 points from “junkyard status.”

“If you could imagine the state of Illinois, with all of its assets, with all of the things we have. A transportation hub. A great labor force. … And we could have junk status in the state of Illinois? To me, that’s stunning if that occurs,” she said.

Topinka said pensions, Medicaid and overspending are problems that have plagued the state and have scared off business owners from investing or expanding in Illinois. She has told the Legislature to “cool your jets” when it comes to spending and to not spend any money on anything that’s not needed. New programs and initiatives need to wait. And even if revenue increases, Illinois cannot afford to bump up spending, she said.

“After having said this, and obviously having great influence, the Legislature added $2 billion to the budget last year,” Topinka said. “I cannot sustain it. I don’t have the money to pay for it. So it’s going to be promises made, promises that cannot and will not be kept. And I think that’s the worst kind of policy we could make.”

Topinka has spoken to chambers of commerce across the state recently about the financial issues facing Illinois. She announced Sept. 15 that she was running for re-election as Illinois comptroller and said Monday, “I like to fix things. But boy, I’ll tell ya, this one’s hard.

“If it were up to me, I would take that [pension] commission or the Legislature and the governor and I’d lock them all into a room until we had a deal and I’d give them lots of soda pop and then I’d make sure they had no bathroom privileges,” she joked. “That’s the way you get it done.”

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