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State working to lower debt

Update: 4:20 pm, 7/15/14, Tuesday ILLINOIS -- There's growing debate over the state's progress paying off its bills.
Update: 4:20 pm, 7/15/14, Tuesday
ILLINOIS -- There's growing debate over the state's progress paying off its bills. WCIA-3's Alex Davis keeps us Connected to the Capitol.

Monday, the state said it's down to about $4 billion. Critics say, that's not quite right. No matter who you ask, they do agree the state is paying down its debt. Some say it's an improvement for Illinois.

"The state of Illinois is paying down its bills, but also meeting our obligations for pensions for the first time in a long time."

The state is at $3.9 billion in debt; down from $9.9 billion when Quinn took office in 2009.

"It means we're going in the right direction. We still have an awful lot of work to do. There will always be some unpaid bills out there."

Union Service Member Al Pieper agrees there's more work to do.

"They've done a fair job, a reasonable job. I think they could have done much better."

In Pieper's opinion, lawmakers could have done more, long ago, to prevent some of the bills from piling up in the first place.

"And now, we find ourselves in a position where the backlog is still at three or four billion dollars. That's a lot of money."

Quinn says tough decisions help reduce the debt. But Pieper isn't giving him too much credit.

"They had opportunities years ago to set up a rainy day fund. That didn't happen."

Neither is the comptroller. Judy Baar Topinka reports the actual debt amount is closer to $4.4 billion.

Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner says the budget his opponent just signed into law is going to make the state's financial problems worse.
Original: 10:28 pm, 7/14/14, Monday
ILLINOIS -- Consumer confidence in the state is sitting near all-time lows and experts say political problems at the capitol are dragging the economy down even further.

Ronald McNeil, Dean for UIS Springfield’s College of Business and Management, said perception of the economy can be as important as its actual condition.

"If you hear the economy is bad, you may react to it as if it is bad,” McNeil said.

With Illinois' budgets in bad shape and costs-of-living going up, he said it’s created a perfect storm for poor perception.

"People then blame everybody,” McNeil said. “Cars cost more, food costs more, they exaggerate that and they act as if the world is caving in."

Consignment boutique Plato's Closet doesn't sweat the bad economy.

“Just because the economy is down, we still do awesome here,” said store manager Demi Braden.

For the designer reseller, when their customers cut their spending, they look for the deals Plato's offers for buying and selling.

“When the economy is down,” Braden said, “it’s always an easy way to make money.”

While Illinois remains one of the country's highest grossing states, customers on the sales floor are losing confidence.

"It does, it worries me,” said Emily Wheeler, of Springfield. “I know I want to get out of the state when I graduate college to a better place with better economics."

“I have cut my spending and we watch what we spend, definitely," said Lynne Redick, of Springfield.

Redick said the economy will be a major issue for her decision at the ballot box.

"It's up there in the top three,” she said. “Definitely."

In a bit of good news, the state reached a milestone Monday reducing its debt on past due bills by more than $5 million to between $3.9 to $4.4 billion depending on where you draw the line. That's down from a high of $9.9 billion in 2010.
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