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Waiting for a Check from Illinois? Get in Line

The state owes thousands of businesses billions of dollars

In Illinois, you’re never too big or too small to get stiffed by the man. The strapped state government, awash in debt, is now $4 billion behind in paying its bills. At least 8,000 businesses, charities, and state agencies have been waiting patiently—or not—for the state to scrape together enough money to settle up. IBM is hoping to see $1.1 million for equipment and services it provided the government. Office Depot is out $660,955. And the 17th Street Bar & Grill in downstate Sparta, Ill., is sitting on a $340.52 tab. At least 114 companies are due more than $1 million. To put the mess in perspective, the backlog is larger than Delaware’s entire $3.5 billion budget.

While other states have at times gotten behind in paying their bills—California briefly issued IOUs to cover a shortfall in 2009—Illinois is in a deadbeat class by itself. The list of debts has been growing for three years and amounts to more than 10 percent of the state’s general budget for the coming fiscal year.