That tax refund check may not be in the mail.
In Illinois, it's one thing if the state government owes you money. The state's message is, "Get in line and we'll pay you when we have the cash."
But it's another thing altogether if you owe governmental entities money, thanks to an agreement between the state and local governments that allows Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to either deduct money from an individual's state tax refund or wipe it out altogether to cover unpaid bills.
So far, Topinka's office has notified more than 40,000 taxpayers that they either won't be getting a refund or the refund will be smaller than expected because it's owed to the city of Chicago or municipalities like Springfield, Aurora or Collinsville.
It is ironic that the state of Illinois, a deadbeat of gargantuan proportions, has taken steps to penalize individuals who are deadbeats of minor proportions.
The state has not been paying its bills to vendors for years. Since it doesn't have the money, it tells them to wait patiently until it's their turn to be paid. The financial pressure these delayed payments are putting on businesses is enormous.
To help address this problem, state legislators passed a large increase in the state's personal and corporate income taxes in January 2011. More than a year later, the state's backlog of bills hasn't changed much, and the state's budget picture remains grim.
Called the Local Debt Recovery Program, the refund-grabbing approach was adopted to provide local governmental entities with a quick infusion of cash. Chicago, obviously, will be the big winner because of its size. But look for the number of governmental entities participating to increase dramatically, and they won't be limited to municipalities. Lake Land College in Mattoon is among the entities looking to collect on unpaid bills.
Everybody's looking for a quick buck, but the government has an distasteful advantage in collecting at its disposal to collect what it's owed.