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Article updated: 2/27/2013 4:03 PM

Topinka warns local mayors, businesses about Illinois financial issues

By Melissa Silverberg

State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka shared a depressing view of Illinois' fiscal issues with government and small business leaders in the Northwest suburbs Wednesday and although the news wasn't good, several local leaders said they were glad to hear Topinka's realistic outlook.

"I'm the voice of doom and gloom for the state of Illinois because I have to pay the bills," Topinka said, speaking to members of 11 Northwest suburban chambers of commerce at The Cotillion in Palatine.

Participating chambers included Arlington Heights, Barrington Area, Buffalo Grove Area, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Palatine, Rolling Meadows, the Schaumburg Business Association and the Wheeling/Prospect Heights Area Chamber.

"You don't spend what you don't have, what is so hard to understand about that?" she said. "The government has got to learn to live within its means. It's an old story, but we still aren't doing it."

Topinka gave the group and update on the financial challenges facing Illinois.

As of Wednesday morning Topinka said her office has 194,086 unpaid bills totaling $7.5 billion, in addition to the staggering pension crisis that has yet to be resolved.

Local leaders said it was refreshing to hear an honest portrayal of the state's issues.

"She sees through the smoke and mirrors and tells us the real fiscal position the state is in and it's not good," said Hoffman Estates Mayor Bill McLeod. "It is reassuring to hear a realistic look at what is going on."

Although municipal governments don't have a lot of control over Springfield, what happens there reverberates here, others said.

"The things happening in the state have a big impact on our municipalities," said Prospect Heights Mayor Nick Helmer. "There is a cause and effect relationship here. If the state doesn't have the money then it makes it harder on our municipalities and our businesses and our taxpayers."

"It's important to have someone like her in that position because she sees the big picture," said Mount Prospect Mayor Irvana Wilks said of Topinka. "Our businesses and municipalities have to work together in a partnership and right now both are struggling in Illinois."

Topinka spoke in her usual frank style, including about her former opponent for governor.

"I really wish I would have beaten Blagojevich, we wouldn't have had this problem," Topinka said in reference to her 2006 gubernatorial battle with now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. "We would have some problems but it wouldn't be this bad. I didn't think one person could do this much damage, but he's making a liar out of me."

Topinka referred to the battle at the federal level over the sequester as "absurd, silly and stupid."

"She tells it the way it is in Springfield, which is what we need to know," said Jon Ridler, executive director of the Arlington Heights Chamber of Commerce. "We wanted to get her in front of our small businesses and let them know there is a voice in Springfield trying to bring fiscal responsibility to the state. There are a lot of small businesses in fear right now."

"What we heard today wasn't news, but it's a reminder that things are going to take time to get better," Helmer said.

Follow Melissa Silverberg on Twitter at www.twitter.com/m_silverberg or Facebook at www.facebook.com/reportermelissa.

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