GOP seeks to oust Democrats Mendoza, Frerichs from comptroller, treasurer jobs

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Comptroller candidates (top row, left to right) Democratic incumbent Susana Mendoza, Republican Shannon Teresi, Libertarian Deirdre McCloskey; Treasurer candidates (bottom row, left to right) Republican Tom Demmer, Libertarian Preston Nelson; Democratic incumbent Michael Frerichs

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times-file; Facebook; Facebook; Facebook; John Merkle-Provided; Rich Hein/Sun-Times-file

Illinois is on a path of financial recovery. Or is it hurtling downward in a fiscal free fall?

Depends on whom you ask: the Democrats seeking to maintain their long hold on the state comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices — or the Republicans looking to replace them.

In a little over a week, voters will get to decide which narrative they believe — and who sits in the two relatively obscure fiscal offices.

Going on six years as state comptroller, Democrat Susana Mendoza is facing off against Republican challenger Shannon Teresi and Libertarian Deirdre McCloskey.

Despite her office’s low profile, Mendoza calls it “the most important office [Illinois residents] don’t know much about.”

“Everything you care about, like where you go to school, the roads and bridges you drive on, the hospitals you depend on, police and fire … the comptroller’s office manages all of the money in the state, and I’m the one who pays those bills,” Mendoza said. “If the comptroller’s office shut down for a day, it really would cripple government.”

Mendoza said she came into office during a period of skyrocketing debt, even before the pandemic plunged the state into an economic downturn.

Comptroller candidates (left to right) Libertarian Deirdre McCloskey, Democrat Susana Mendoza and Republican Shannon Teresi.

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At the time, Illinois had less than $60,000 in the state’s reserves and over $17 billion in unpaid bills, she said. A senior home in Central Illinois was on the brink of missing its first payroll.

Now, the comptroller said Illinois’ financial state is “under control” with less than $1.5 billion in debt. But, she said, the state still has room for growth.

 “To think about how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time under unprecedented, challenging circumstances is truly nothing short of remarkable,” she said.

Republican challenger Shannon Teresi paints a darker picture.

She says Illinois is struggling to move forward because the state boasts some of the highest tax rates in the nation.

Teresi is McHenry County auditor and a certified public accountant.

“I think it’s a slam dunk to put a fraud examiner in charge of the state’s finances,” she said.

Teresi vows to conduct a thorough audit of the office’s financial statements if she is elected. She points to an Illinois Auditor General’s report on the treasurer’s and comptroller’s offices, in which financial statements from the 2021 fiscal year showed a duplicate deposit of $1.6 billion in the state’s available cash balance.

“This is egregious,” Teresi said. “If this was a corporation and they found a $1.6 billion mistake, someone would be held accountable.”

Both the comptroller’s and treasurer’s offices insist the incident was a clerical error.

The third candidate, Libertarian Deirdre McCloskey said she would like to see more spending transparency in the state’s accounts and the state’s pension liabilities addressed.

With no money in her campaign fund, McCloskey admits she’s a long shot to win.

Mendoza leads the pack, reporting over $2.85 million in her campaign fund to date, followed by Teresi, who raised $139,000, according to her campaign.

The state treasurer’s office also is occupied by a Democrat seeking another term.

Like Mendoza, Democratic state Treasurer Michael Frerichs touts the importance of a job few taxpayers understand.

“Some people ask, when am I going to pass the budget? I’d love to pass a budget, but that’s the General Assembly’s job. Others ask me, when am I going to get paid? But that’s the comptroller’s job. My job is to take money from state funds, invest that money and then make more money,” he said.

Right now, the treasurer said, Illinois has about $26 billion in state funds.

As for the $1.6 billion mistake in the auditor general’s report, Frerichs suggested it shows the system is working.

“Lots and lots of transaction come in and mistakes get made but we have controls in place to find them,” he said. “So, when the audit finding said, ‘Look, there was a mistake,’ we fixed it.”

Frerichs said his focus over the course of two terms has been returning unclaimed properties to Illinois residents, expanding retirement savings funds and overhauling the state’s Bright Start college savings program — which he said went from one of the worst in the nation to first in the nation.

“This office doesn’t make headlines,” Frerichs said. “’State treasurer does his job’ or ‘state treasurer does his job well,’ that’s not news.”

Unfortunately for Frerichs, some of the biggest headlines he made involved a remark he made at a news conference in 2020 about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s push for a graduated income tax.

State Treasurer Michael Frerichs (left) in 2018, Libertarian Preston Nelson (center) and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, (right) in 2020.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times-file; John Merkle-Provided; Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP-file

Voters ultimately rejected the idea, but before that Frerichs said a shift to a graduated tax system would “make clear you can have graduated rates when you are taxing retirement income,” the Daily Herald reported at the time.

Frerichs quicky tried to walk the comment back, insisting he was “not pushing” for taxing retirement income and later saying he opposes “creating a retirement tax in Illinois, along with the General Assembly and governor.”

Republicans never let Frerichs live it down.

“Why did he use the office of state treasurer to advocate for higher taxes?” his Republican opponent, state Rep. Tom Demmer still asks.

Demmer argues that tax rates in Illinois are too high and said he plans to fight to lower them if elected. The legislator from Dixon also said a Republican is sorely needed to check the Democrat-dominated state government. 

Frerichs fires back that Demmer actually wanted to run for Illinois secretary of state but opted for treasurer because the GOP already had a candidate lined up for the higher office.

“So, he decided to run for treasurer instead,” Frerichs said. “He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”

The Libertarian candidate, Preston Nelson, did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

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October 31, 2022 at 06:58AM

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