Here we are again, endorsing candidates for two state offices when one would do.
We’ve been over this before: The Illinois comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices should be consolidated to save the state money and create a more streamlined system for handling the state’s revenue. Dozens of lawmakers — and most of the candidates for these jobs — agree. But House Speaker Michael Madigan has repeatedly blocked efforts to put the question of a constitutional amendment to combine the offices before voters.
For now, the offices remain separate. The treasurer invests taxpayer money after it’s collected but before it gets spent. The comptroller controls the state’s main checking account and pays the bills. We look forward to the day when we can endorse just one financial officer.
In the race for comptroller, incumbent Susana Mendoza is challenged by Republican Darlene Senger and Libertarian Claire Ball.
In 2016, Democrat Mendoza, a former Chicago city clerk and state representative, defeated Comptroller Leslie Munger, who had been appointed to the position in 2014 by Gov. Bruce Rauner after the death of Judy Baar Topinka a month after the 2014 election. On day one of her new job, Mendoza found an $11 billion (and climbing) pile of unpaid bills waiting on her desk.
With the state’s budget impasse in full swing, Mendoza grabbed her bullhorn and launched an impassioned effort to reset the bill-paying priorities for a state in crisis. In a flash, she became one of the governor’s most vocal critics. We like her gusto.
We asked Mendoza about rumors of a potential Chicago mayoral run. She demurred, but she also wouldn’t pledge to stay in her state job for a full four years if she wins. Even if the comptroller job proves a steppingstone for Mendoza, though, she has plunged into the state’s finances with impressive fervor. She pushed Rauner to borrow $6 billion to start paying down the state’s massive backlog of unpaid bills. She advocated for the Debt Transparency Act, which requires state agencies to file monthly reports on unpaid bills, and successfully lobbied lawmakers to override Rauner’s veto of the bill. She also fought for passage of two other laws aimed at improving the bill-paying process — one authorizing the treasurer to use special funds to accelerate vendor payments (and avoid late fees) and one that requires increased disclosure from certain financial institutions working with the state. These three new laws are helping Illinois rebuild its standing with creditors, even as credit agencies such as Moody’s note that it will take far more than this legislation to correct the state’s financial mess.
Mendoza’s often harsh words about Rauner, a Republican, can give make her look partisan. She did pledge to us that, as comptroller, she would critique a Democratic governor just as rigorously.
During our endorsement session, both Senger and Ball — a studious accountant making her second run for the office — failed to keep up with Mendoza on nearly every issue surrounding the comptroller’s race. Mendoza is endorsed.
The yin to Mendoza’s yang in state finance is Mike Frerichs, the incumbent Democratic treasurer, running against Orland Park Republican Jim Dodge and Libertarian Mike Leheney of Bourbonnais.
In contrast to the fiery Mendoza-Rauner relationship, Frerichs, who lives in Champaign, says he resists governing through headlines. Yet even the diplomatic Frerichs says he has been snubbed by Rauner. He invited the governor to meet just after they both took office but never heard back. In any case, if we must have two revenue posts, we appreciate the balance Frerichs and Mendoza strike.
Frerichs, a two-term state senator, was not our pick for treasurer in 2014 — we preferred the more fiscally conservative record of his opponent, Tom Cross. But we like how Frerichs has protected taxpayer investments and found creative ways to help residents better protect their own money. We applauded his rollout of a state retirement-savings program called Secure Choice, particularly because it helps Illinoisans who don’t have access to traditional pensions or 401(k)-style plans save money without getting government into the business of actually managing those funds. A Democrat who avoided a potential nanny-state setup, protects taxpayer money and encourages personal responsibility? More of that, please.
Emphasizing in his candidate questionnaire that his focus in office was on results over the status quo, Frerichs noted that since 2015, investment earnings for the state’s portfolio had increased from approximately $4 million a month to $22 million a month.
Jim Dodge, who has substantial private- and public-sector experience, is a formidable challenger and a welcome voice in Illinois politics. But in a state that is digging out of a deep financial crisis, we like Frerichs’ accomplishments and expect we’ll see more. Frerichs is endorsed.
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October 12, 2018 at 08:06AM