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Morning headlines: Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Ill. State Capitol
The Ill. State Capitol

Ill. unpaid bills top $4.2 billion in Comptroller's office

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka says there are  even more bills piled up in other government departments. She said Wednesday the state's overall backlog is about $8.5 billion. That means organizations that provide services for the state, from businesses to hospitals to charity groups, must wait months to be paid for their work. Topinka's office is still paying bills that date back to Sept. 1 - four and a half months ago.

Illinois is behind on its bills even after officials cut spending and raised taxes. Topinka's report predicts the backlog will continue at similar rates. Some officials want to borrow money so state government can pay its vendors, but Topinka argues against more borrowing.

Mo. Senator wants to bar minors from selling tobacco products

A Missouri senator wants to bar stores from letting clerks younger than 18 sell tobacco products. Sen. Kiki Curls, a Kansas City Democrat, told a Senate committee Wednesday that allowing teens under 18 to sell tobacco could make it easier for minors to start smoking or chewing at a young age. She said clerks under 18 also have a difficult time turning down buyers who are under 18, potentially allowing minors to purchase tobacco products.

Under her proposal, stores that allow minors to sell tobacco would be fined as much as $500 per violation.

Retail organizations opposed the measure, saying it could hurt grocery stores and gas stations that employ high school students as clerks.

Mo. lawmakers may not go along with Nixon's proposed cut to higher education

Nixon has proposed a 12.5 percent reduction to higher education institutions for the next academic year. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said Wednesday he does not intend to follow Nixon's recommendation. The Columbia Republican says the cut would be a huge blow to higher education.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey – a Republican from Kansas City - says he also wants to add money to higher education. But he says lawmakers must decide whether it's worth it to try to go against Nixon's wishes.

University officials say their schools already have taken steps to become more efficient. Some say more cuts could lead to reduced courses or employee furloughs.