SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The state's backlog of unpaid bills has climbed past $1 billion as the government struggles to make ends meet with less money, Comptroller Dan Hynes said Friday.
The backlog means long waits for the hospitals, pharmacies, schools and cities that are entitled to money from the state.
"These delays are across the board," Hynes said in a release that also warned the $1.039 billion backlog is likely to grow.
He said this is the first time the state's stack of overdue bills has reached $1 billion, although Gov. George Ryan's budget office questions that.
Hynes said he usually processes bills within three days, but now it takes up to four weeks because money is so tight.
State expenses climbed dramatically last year, while revenues fell $700 million below expectations. The result has been a major budget deficit.
Ryan has slashed nearly $500 million from the current budget and proposed an austere budget for next year.
Bills for services are sent to individual state agencies, which pass them on to the comptroller. The comptroller then writes the checks -- if there is enough money in state accounts.
If money is running short, the bills go unpaid.
For the first time in years, municipalities also will see delays in their share of state income tax revenues. Cities are owed $87 million that the comptroller's office cannot pay, Hynes spokeswoman Karen Craven said.
So far, general state aid payments to public schools have not been delayed. However, $95 million is being delayed for "categorical" programs -- specific services such as bilingual education and transportation -- and for State Board of Education expenses.
Ryan's deputy budget director, Mike Colsch, said the office has tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to get details from Hynes about what bills are stacking up and why.