Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said last week that state government's backlog of unpaid bills will hit $8.5 billion by the end of December, up from about $6 billion right now.

That's a headline-grabbing number, since the end of December is not exactly the greatest time for people and companies that are owed money by the state. The state's bill backlog was about $8 billion this past January, right after most of the 2011 state-income-tax hike expired. But the backlog fell to $3.5 billion by the end of July, and just $2.3 billion of those bills were more than 30 days overdue.

But let's take a look at another estimate Comptroller Munger released last week. The comptroller totaled state spending from last fiscal year that isn't currently being mandated by federal and state court decrees (Medicaid bills, state employee and judicial salaries, etc.), continuing appropriations (bond and pension payments, legislative salaries), signed appropriations bills (K-12 education), and other things, and came up with $4.3 billion.

The $4.3 billion is the total amount that was paid out last year but is not currently being sent to colleges and universities, state-employee health-care providers, non-Medicaid social-service providers, MAP Grant college-student-aid recipients, and lottery winners over $25,000, plus various "transfers out," including to local governments for things such as motor-fuel-tax distributions.

Eventually, that money will have to be paid in full or in part, or significant portions of the state are gonna be in a big world of hurt.

There was a reason why state Representative Esther Golar (D-Chicago) showed up late for session last Wednesday: She's been quite ill.

Golar was brought into the Statehouse on Wednesday afternoon via wheelchair. With a weak and halting voice, Golar asked for assistance putting on a light jacket while chatting with a smattering of well-wishers before walking to her seat on the House floor.

She told friends that she hadn't eaten solid food in three weeks, although she didn't say what had made her so ill. In desperate need of intravenous fluid, Golar eventually had to be taken to a Springfield hospital.

Through it all, the six-term South Side legislator said she absolutely had to attend session because she knew it was important - not just to help override the governor's veto of AFSCME's now-infamous "no strike" bill, but to have her say on all the other overrides and important measures.

A whole lot of bills went down in flames last Wednesday because Representative Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) decided not to cut short his trip to New York and skipped the session. Numerous override motions failed by a single vote, as well as a bill designed to reverse the governor's 90-percent cut to child-care services.

The Illinois fiscal crisis is only going to get worse, and the solution is becoming more difficult by the day.

As you probably know, the General Assembly and the governor have not yet agreed on a full state budget. But because of various federal judicial orders, a signed education-funding bill, and several ongoing statutory "continuing appropriations" (debt service, pension payments, legislative salaries, etc.), the government is on pace to spend billions of dollars more than it will bring in this fiscal year.

Guesstimates have been tossed around by various folks that the state could run out of money by March or maybe April if no formal budget agreement is reached. That's because all the judicial orders etc. are based on last fiscal year's budget, but last year's budget was based on revenue from a 5-percent income tax - which automatically fell to 3.75 percent in January.

Long term is grim, but so is the short term.

I think on August 19 a new and brief window of opportunity opened that might finally help wrap up this long and drawn-out state-legislative overtime session.

But that window will only be open for 15 calendar days - the time the state Constitution gives each legislative chamber to vote on a veto override.

Allow me to explain.

I spoke with some Rauner folks last week and, man, are they ever on the warpath about the Senate's August 19 override of the governor's veto of the AFSCME bill - legislation that would prevent a strike by or lockout of state workers and would instead require binding arbitration after an impasse is reached. The House has 15 days from that date to take its own action.

Even though AFSCME has never invoked its binding-arbitration power with state corrections officers (who cannot strike by law), the governor and his people clearly see this bill as an intrusion on executive-branch powers.

The absurd facade of this long-running state-government impasse might best be summed up with two brief statements.

(1) Governor Bruce Rauner to Democrats: Just support my plans to eviscerate organized labor and I'll give you the rare privilege of voting to raise everybody's income taxes.

(2) Democrats to Rauner: Just accept our piddly little workers' compensation reforms and we'll let you put all Republican legislators on an income-tax-hike bill, which you can then, of course, gleefully sign into law.

Those two statements bring to mind a long-ago description of the play Waiting for Godot. It was, the reviewer wrote, a play in which "nothing happens, twice."

Ain't that the truth. Neither of these things will ever happen.

I have heard some portray this standoff as something like a religious war, in which each side is so wedded to their own core belief structures - particularly when it comes to labor unions (Rauner against, Democrats for) - that all rapprochement is impossible.

But as hard-line as the summer has most certainly appeared, I am increasingly convinced that this overtime session isn't quite as simple as either of those comparisons.

There are those who believe strongly that one side or the other is "winning" our latest and perhaps greatest Illinois Statehouse impasse.

I think it's too early to judge, and frankly I think everyone is going to end up losing here anyway.

As you know, the governor has refused to negotiate a budget until the Democrats accede to his demands to essentially neuter the power of labor unions. The Democrats won't ever sign on to his more radical proposals, including forbidding school teachers from negotiating their own salaries.

Many who think Governor Bruce Rauner is winning point to the fact that about 80 percent of the General Revenue Fund's budget is being spent under court order or signed legislation.

State-employee wages and pensions, Medicaid-reliant hospitals in Cook County, part of the state child-care program, debt service, transfers to local governments, and human-service programs tied to federal consent decrees are all being funded. In addition, Rauner signed the K-12 budget, so schools are being paid on time.

In addition, the House is expected as I write this to pass legislation appropriating about $5 billion in federal pass-through money.

So Rauner has managed to avoid wearing the jacket for any devastating consequences of a state shutdown because there hasn't really been a shutdown.

But there are plenty of crises to come.

If there were any doubt before last week, there's zero uncertainty now: Governor Bruce Rauner won't allow anyone else to interfere with his dominance of the Illinois Republican Party.

When the party was out of power for 12 years, several independent actors were always trying to influence elections from behind the scenes, elbowing people out, putting people in. This is a diverse state, and the party has numerous factions, both economic and social. All of those factions have de facto leaders.

One of those independent actors has been Ron Gidwitz, a moderate, wealthy business executive and one-time gubernatorial candidate with a network that includes lots of his rich friends. He ran the moneyed wing of the party.

Gidwitz used his and his friends' money to boost candidates who were to his liking. He backed Senator Kirk Dillard for governor in 2010, for instance, then switched his allegiance to Bruce Rauner four years later. That move did more to hurt Dillard than it did to help the mainly self-funding Rauner, because it totally dried up Dillard's money, leaving him unable to effectively compete until organized labor finally entered the race on his behalf.

After months of public silence, Gidwitz re-emerged last week. Sources say he has been bad-mouthing U.S. Senator Mark Kirk behind the scenes for quite a while. A recent Michael Sneed item in the Chicago Sun-Times about an anonymous top Republican who wanted Kirk to step down from the Senate was widely pinned on him.

Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner declared to reporters that if it weren't for House Speaker Michael Madigan, the budget impasse would've been resolved.

And perhaps if the sky were green, then grass would be blue.

For starters, what the governor said is dubious. In the absence of Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and his liberal Democratic caucus wouldn't have gone along with the harshly anti-union aspects of Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda" in exchange for a budget deal and tax hike, as the governor is demanding.

House Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters earlier this month that he'd had a "frank discussion" with Governor Bruce Rauner, "and I gave him good, solid advice."

Word is that advice had two parts.

First, the governor needs to find a way to get himself out of this long overtime-session, no-state-budget mess.

Second, if the governor thinks he can get himself out of this mess by somehow breaking the speaker's will, he's mistaken.

But the governor isn't giving up. In fact, he's doubled down.

After staring at my computer screen for more than an hour, I realized that my goal of providing a succinct and thoughtful analysis of what happened on a very weird day last week in Illinois government was impossible.

Instead, we're going to have to take this in pieces.

The court case. C.J. Baricevic was one of the lawyers representing a host of unions in their successful St. Clair County lawsuit to force the state to pay its employees without a budget. The victory Thursday came just two days after a Cook County judge ruled that paying employees without an official state budget was a clear and total violation of the Illinois Constitution.

Why was St. Clair County's ruling so different?

Well, Baricevic happens to be the son of the county's chief judge, John Baricevic, who was once the county-board chair and is regarded as one of the most powerful Democrats in the region. The younger Baricevic is the local Democratic choice for Congress against freshman Republican U.S. Representative Mike Bost. According to Ballotpedia, the judge in Thursday's case also appears to be up for retention next year in the heavily unionized county.

Hey, I'm not saying nothing bad about no judges. I visit that fine county every now and then. I'm even told the judge in the case isn't the type to be sensitive to such pressures. "He's just a pro-labor guy at heart," explained one area politico, who added that I was "reading too much" into the local political angle.

I'm just saying.