Is Illinois 'Bankrupt'?

While California's much publicized budget battles have made the dire financial straights faced in Sacramento a topic of regular media conversation, other states are also experiencing major fiscal woes. According to experts interviewed by Crain's Chicago Business, Illinois currently finds itself in a state of de facto bankruptcy, with the state's ledgers appearing "to meet classic definitions of insolvency: Its liabilities far exceed its assets, and it's not generating enough cash to pay its bills."

According to Crain's, "While California has an even bigger budget hole to fill, Illinois ranks dead last among the states in terms of negative net worth compared with total expenditures." The state had a record $5.1 Billion in bills past due at year's end, has failed to pay some vendors for months, and has seen the average time to pay a bill double to nearly 92 days. The state also faces rapidly mounting pension obligations, and has seen it's ability to borrow restricted by its worsening credit rating. Facing piles of liabilities, and recession reduced receipts, the state is currently "living hand to mouth, paying bills as revenues come in each day, building up cash when special payments are coming due. Cash on hand varies from day to day, sometimes dipping below $1 million".

A business or municipality facing such financial challenges might be tempted (or forced) to seek the shelter of bankruptcy protection in order to place it's books in order. States, however, do not have recourse to that option under existing federal law. As a result "rather than having a court restructure its finances as in a bankruptcy filing, a state [has]to reorganize its spending and debt on its own." Lawmakers in Springfield, faced with a situation that is bankruptcy in all but name, will have to make difficult decisions regarding future taxes and services.