Illinois unpaid prison utility bills burden small towns, businesses

Illinois towns and businesses are left paying the state’s unpaid utility bills to keep prisons running through the budget impasse.

Cities say, by contract, towns and businesses with prisons cannot shut off the utilities to those facilities, leaving them paying the state’s mounting bills.

According to the Illinois Comptroller’s website, the state of Illinois has bill backlogs of more than $7.9 billion as of June 17.

Millstone Water District in Eddyville, Illinois, supplies the water for the Vienna Correctional Center, with unpaid bills totaling $30,236.70.  Pickneyville’s city clerk reports the town is owed a little more than $695,000 in unpaid water, sewer and gas bills for the Pickneyville Correctional Center. The Menard Correctional facilities in Menard, Illinois, utilities are supplied by the city of Chester. The city clerk reports the town is owed more than $1.3 million in unpaid utility bills.

The towns say they’re tapping in to reserves and other sources of income in the meantime, trying to foot the bills during the impasse.

John Jackson with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale says this kind of budgetary crisis is unprecedented for Illinois and the country. He says lawmakers have violated the constitution since they failed to pass a state budget by July 1, 2015.  He says it is hurting the state now, and the people living here will feel the effects of the impasse for years to come.

"This is long term damage that we’re doing to the reputation and the image of the state and the practical operation of the state. We’re not going to get over this for a while,” said Jackson.

There are 11 days remaining until the start of the next fiscal year in Illinois. Lawmakers ended their spring session without passing a budget.

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