As the state’s budget impasse drags on, the Comptroller is often asked about the backlog of unpaid vouchers. This is one of the best ways to measure Illinois’ most recent financial condition.
So exactly what is a backlog of unpaid vouchers, and what does it mean when one exists?
A backlog of unpaid vouchers is usually a dollar figure that represents the sum of payables that have been sent to the Comptroller but have not been paid.
The Comptroller manages the state’s payables. She does so by receiving vouchers, which are essentially orders from state agencies to make payments and transfers on their behalf.
Illinois’ is currently in a situation where the rate at which vouchers are reported to the Comptroller is greater than the amount of money deposited into the state’s accounts. When that happens, the Comptroller has to hold off on issuing payments that would otherwise have been released in a more timely manner.
For example, on Oct. 22, 2015, there were 83,194 vouchers worth roughly $4.05 billion sitting at the Comptroller’s Office waiting to be paid.
However the value of vouchers reported to the Comptroller does not always paint a complete picture of how far behind the state is in paying its bills. For various reasons, state agencies do not always send vouchers to the Comptroller when they have a bill that needs to be paid.
And because state agencies are not required by law to keep the Comptroller informed more than once a year on how many vouchers they are holding, the Comptroller and her staff oftentimes estimate what bills they have not received but probably will sometime in the future.