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Illinois Unpaid Bills At The Center Of Judy Baar Topinka's New State Financial Transparency Site

Posted: 04/ 3/2012 4:39 pm Updated: 04/ 3/2012 4:39 pm

Illinois Unpaid Bills Judy Baar Topinka
Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka participates in a rally during Republican Day Thursday Aug 18, 2011 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. Republican leaders accused Democrats of mismanaging the Illinois budget. They criticized Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to borrow money to pay overdue bills that are piling up.

We all know that the Illinois budget situation is a mess, but llinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka wants us to know just how messy it really is.

On Monday, Topinka's office unveiled a new website to make information about the state's financial health more accessible to concerned residents. The website -- called "The Ledger" -- includes up-to-date information on state employee salaries, daily general funds balances, state bond ratings, all state financial results. Further, the site prominently displays -- in its upper-right corner -- the state's unpaid bill backlog.

As of Tuesday, that figure stood just short of $6 billion, at roughly $5.97 billion, an amount that excludes Medicaid bills and some other expenses. While this data has been available online previously, it has never before been available in one place.

The site also allows users to compare what individuals hold state contracts versus who has contributed to influential politicians, the Daily Herald notes.

Topinka told CBS Chicago that unveiling the site presented rare "really good news" for Illinois taxpayers. She wrote in a statement on the site's front page that the site will help the public "follow the money."

"Being the chief fiscal officer in Illinois right now is like being one of your obituary writers at the newspaper, because I’ve only got bad news to report all the time," Topinka added.

As of January this year, the state's official backlog of bill had ballooned to approximately $4.25 billion, but was estimated to be somewhere near $8.5 billion when other factors such as tax refunds and employee health insurance were taken into consideration.

It is unclear where Illinois's current "unofficial" backlog currently stands, but Topinka believes that the Ledger will help get the state on more solid financial ground.

"The object of the exercise is to make everything that we know of in the comptroller’s office public. If we know it, you’ll know it," Topinka told the Associated Press.

"We think it's the only way we're going to get the state back on a footing here on integrity and undercut some of this corruption that's gone on and horseplay," she continued.

Earlier this year, the Civic Federation called the state's financial health as "a very frightening situation." That report projected that the state's unpaid bill backlog could eventually swell to $34.8 billion unless drastic action is taken to address the state's pension, Medicaid and other expenses.

WATCH a report on Topinka's new data website:

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |