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updated: 10/17/2011 7:19 AM

Business and the state's deadbeat hypocrisy

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

There is an underlying hypocrisy in the state's deadbeat practice of paying its bills late, and it is seen and felt on the street.

What do you suppose would happen if you were late paying your state taxes? What do you suppose would happen if, consistently, you were late paying the mortgage? Too many of us don't have to suppose. Too many of us face or have been through foreclosure.

And so why is it that the state of Illinois is allowed to essentially do the same thing?

The state is late paying what it owes over and over. And it hurts real people, business owners and their employees and customers. In "Deadbeat Illinois: The Painful Price of Unpaid Bills," the Daily Herald, The Associated Press and other media all around Illinois jointly this week detail the breadth and fallout of the state's long-held habit of being months behind on its payments.

Daily Herald State Government Writer Mike Riopell today examines the problems this unacceptable practice causes for some suburban small and larger businesses.

Even an amount under $1,000 could mean the difference between opening and closing for some small businesses. It might mean employees don't get paid, forcing them into the choice of which bills to pay and which to set aside -- for creditors with more recourse against them than businesses or other agencies have against the state. It might mean jobs don't get added or created in some businesses. And with an unemployment rate at nearly 10 percent, we know how critical that is.

Mark Drugs in Roselle is waiting for $926 Illinois owes the small pharmacy for some medical equipment like wheelchairs.

"If my taxes are late," said Mark Drugs owner Mark Mandel, "I'm definitely penalized."

Advanced Commodities in Bartlett is owed nearly $600,000 for food it provided for the state's prisoners. A Roselle-based vision firm, Modern Optical, is waiting for $250,000 it's owed for eyeglasses for prisoners. Advocate Health Care is waiting for a whopping $12 million in payments that were more than 30 days overdue at the end of September. And hospitals are just beginning to feel the pinch of late state payments, even though they're among the agencies owed the most money. Worse, now that it's caught up with them, their tab is ballooning fast.

Some business owners don't want to complain about a client as big as Illinois. In these times, being paid late is better than not being paid at all. Others note the state's payment record has improved, and that certainly is good news. But why do we tolerate this at all from one of the biggest state governments in the nation? Illinois does pay some penalties when it's late paying it's bills, just as we all do with personal bills. But who's really paying those penalties?

We are, of course. The taxpayers cough up the payments and the penalties. This is leadership? We know some politicians have decried these delays, too. Our businesses need more than words. They deserve a clear and unwavering commitment for catching up the payments.