Mendoza, Munger and Rauner locked in endless campaign

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State Comptroller Susana Mendoza spoke to the City Club of Chicago last week. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

It’s been nearly five months since Democrat Susana Mendoza defeated the governor’s hand-picked candidate Leslie Munger in the state comptroller’s race – but it’s almost as if the campaign never ended.

Mendoza again lashed out Tuesday at Gov. Bruce Rauner, criticizing his “inability” to propose a budget, while dubbing him “the worst governor that’s ever served this state.”

In response, Munger, whom Rauner appointed deputy governor with a $138,00 salary after her defeat, urged her former competitor to look in the “mirror,” instead of point fingers over who’s to blame for the “sorry condition of our state.”

It’s the latest in the political back-and-forth between Rauner and Mendoza. This time, it’s being played out via letters to department’s heads and employees, released to reporters, and through press conferences and statements.

Answering Rauner’s contention that she is controlling the state’s checkbook to continue the budget crisis and “create chaos, Mendoza on Tuesday announced she’s paid another $94 million in past due bills to home care providers who take care of the elderly.

Shortly after Mendoza staged a press conference at Near West Side home for the elderly, the Rauner administration released a letter from the state’s Department of Aging director, asking Mendoza’s office to “restore the monthly allotment for hardship payments” for the state’s most vulnerable citizens and those who care for them.

Rauner’s administration contends hardship payments for community care service providers were reduced from $20 million to $7 million per month in March. It warned that more than 50 providers have reached out to point out their financial struggles, including employees missing payrolls who are continuing to work for free.

The comptroller’s office, however, says it made a $75 million payment in December — “well above the $20 million your agency requested.” It also states that it has paid more than $235 million for community care service providers — including the $94.3 million announced on Tuesday.

Standing alongside home care providers and seniors, Mendoza warned that she’s being forced to “triage” without a budget in place.

“I’d like to do my job of paying the state’s bills in a timely fashion but while I have expended every dollar that we can towards the bills that are in our office for community care programs, $94 million more today … it doesn’t cover the whole gamut,” Mendoza said. “There are still over $200 million worth of non-Medicaid bills that I do not have legal authority to pay and until a budget gives me that legal authority to pay that, these folks are going to continue to go without. And that’s not right.”

Mendoza called the Rauner administration’s claims she’s shortchanging the hardship program “patently false.”

“The governor loves to go on camera and just say things that are nonsensical and untrue,” Mendoza said, while criticizing a budget he introduced that she said was $7 billion out of balance.

“Go to our website. Check the numbers. We have spent $235 million in funds now, as of today, for community care and Department on Aging programs, and that’s all the money that I can spend,” Mendoza said. “The governor should stop critiquing me and telling me how to do my job and he should do his own job. He’s been there a lot longer than I. I just got here. I took over this role during one of the most challenging times in our state and I’m trying to be a voice for all of these people who are here.”

In response to Mendoza, Munger released a statement, saying the comptroller is prioritizing herself and other legislators over the most vulnerable.

“Serving as Comptroller is all about priorities. Comptroller Mendoza has shown hers by slashing senior service hardship payments from $20 million to $7 million a month while racing to write checks for herself and her former General Assembly colleagues instead of fighting to keep their payments in line. If she’s looking for people to blame for the sorry condition of our state, she might start by looking in the mirror,” Munger said in the statement.

For months, Rauner and Mendoza have dueled via online videos, in press conferences and in courtrooms. In mid-March, Mendoza suspended $27 million in funding the Rauner administration planned to use for upgrading its technology systems, saying she had to prioritize social service providers instead. The governor’s office said it would have saved the state money and that it put some data at risk.

There was also a flap about which funds Munger’s salary came from, and over funding for a drug abuse center in Jacksonville. And Rauner went after Mendoza in court to try to block her from paying about 600 employees out of a specialized fund.

Mendoza has spent the majority of her term urging Rauner to enact a budget, while stressing the enormous pressures of her post and highlighting vulnerable services that are being left in the lurch amid the budget impasse.

“This is not a fun situation for anybody to be in,” Mendoza told seniors on Tuesday. “My job and my life would certainly be a lot easier, as would yours, if we had a budget in place, if the comptroller didn’t have to go out of her way every day to prioritize and triage the situation.”

Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe responded: “Susana Mendoza taking credit for releasing these funds is like an arsonist posing as a firefighter. She’s throwing water on a fire she started by starving providers in the first place.”

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