On Oct. 3, the Chicago Sun-Times invited the candidates for state comptroller to speak with the editorial board as part of its endorsement process. Watch the video above to find out why Republican Darlene Senger is running for the office.
Our Editorial Board sent the nominees for Illinois comptroller a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. Senger submitted the following responses:
The job of state comptroller involves more than writing checks. How would you keep fellow elected officials and the public informed about the level of state debt? What would you do to encourage the state to make responsible financial decisions?
Senger: The Comptroller website currently highlights the amount of our bill backlog. However, that does not give a clear enough picture of the mountains of debt Illinois taxpayers truly face. I will show the actual pension liability as well as our bonding debt that is greatly increasing Illinois’ overall debt by the day. Acknowledging the true financial liability on the Comptroller website will be another reminder of the magnitude of this crisis.
The Comptroller must serve as a strong voice on fiscal issues facing the state of Illinois. I spent my professional career analyzing investment portfolios. As a Naperville City Councilman and as a state representative in the IL General Assembly, I was asked to participate and advise on fiscal policy and weigh in on fiscal legislation. That was and still is my major contribution at the state level.
I believe that a Comptroller with a financial background such as mine has an important voice and perspective to assist in improving Illinois’ finances. I will work with the IL Governor regardless of his party to craft a February budget and I will avail myself to the Illinois General Assembly members in appropriation meetings.
Who is Darlene Senger?
Her political/civic background:
- State Representative, District 41, 2009 -2014
- Naperville City Council, 2002 – 2008
- DuPage Children’s Museum Board Member
- Naperville Homeowners Association
- BS – Purdue Univ
- MBA – DePaul Univ
Campaign website: darlenesenger.com
What would be your top three priorities?
Senger: 1) Consolidation – Only Illinois and four other states have a dedicated Comptroller and a Treasurer. I strongly support placing a question on the ballot for the Illinois voters to decide if we should combine these two offices into one. This merger could reduce the size of Illinois government and save approximately $12 million for the residents.
2) Third Party Payer – See Question #3
3) Watchdog – The Comptroller’s Office compiles all local government reports throughout the state of Illinois. As a clearinghouse for this local government information, there is an opportunity to provide more relevant information to residents so they are better able to understand their state and local finances.
I will publish a report card to track the local governments’ financial status so constituents can see how their town is managing taxpayer dollars through a user-friendly portal. This would be a proactive improvement that provides information to both residents and local governments on the health of their administrations and hopefully identify situations such as those that befell University Park and Harvey.
Our state now has a budget, but it continues to struggle with a $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills. How would you prioritize which bills get paid first?
Senger: The Comptroller’s Office manages millions of invoices each year; however, there is a lack of transparency as it relates to the bill payment process. Considering this is one of the largest responsibilities of the Comptroller, I believe it is critical to look within the office budget and identify a path towards a third party, independent leader who will oversee the payment cycle. This will give taxpayers a greater assurance that politics isn’t coming into play from IL’s Chief Financial Officer.
Another change that can improve payment of unpaid bills is the continued passage of balanced budgets. This is a necessity that will gradually move our state in the right direction. The inability to pay our bills was an issue during the budget impasse. And the unpaid bills were a result of the General Assembly’s failure to pass a budget for the governor to sign.
Do you support a constitutional amendment to merge the state offices of treasurer and comptroller? Why or why not?
Senger: I have long supported legislation that would present the question of whether or not to merge these two offices to the voters. This common-sense idea not only saves taxpayers money, but it also encourages greater communication between the two, which will allow more savings and efficiencies in the future.
In 2012, the Illinois Senate passed SJRCA 13 by a vote of 55 – 0 that would put this consolidation question to the voters of our state. Speaker Madigan blocked this bill from moving forward. My opponent has been vocal against the idea of consolidating the offices. Both as City Clerk and now as the incumbent, she continuously dismisses an idea that must be for the voters to decide.
Illinois’ unfunded pension liability has ballooned to more than $130 billion. What should be done about that?
Senger: Working on the public pension crisis has always been at the top of my legislative agenda. In 2012, I worked on a bipartisan committee to address Illinois’ unfunded pension liability. Republican and Democrat legislators worked for over a year to come up with legislation. I fought hard to have a 401k plan included in the final bill, which helped ensure its passage.
Sadly, in 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled SB1 unconstitutional, clarifying that taxpayers are on the hook for the promises politicians make even if those promises are financially unsustainable.
To truly solve the pension crisis we must work on a constitutional amendment that would allow some financial flexibility on our pension debt.
A small change that I will make if elected Comptroller is that in addition to the bill backlog number currently highlighted by the Comptroller’s Office, I will show the actual pension liability that is greatly increasing Illinois’ overall debt. That number as of August 2018 is $250 billion.
Acknowledging the true pension liability on the Comptroller website is crucial to informing residents about the extent of this problem. Only when you understand and acknowledge this reality can you attack it.
There is a push in Illinois to legalize marijuana, in part to increase state revenue. What is your view on that?
Senger: I don’t support the idea of legalizing marijuana in order to pay for key government services.
Do you support a graduated income tax? Why or why not?
Senger: I do not support a graduated income tax. I believe that it will increase taxes for all, including the most vulnerable despite claims to the contrary. A flat tax, such as Illinois’, is the fairest and most predictable system for the taxpayers to understand. Illinois has more taxing bodies than any other state in the nation. Making our tax system more complicated is a disservice to the taxpayers of Illinois who are trying to manage soaring property taxes, decreased home values and a recent income tax hike. I believe a graduated income tax will only increase Illinois’ emigration problem.
Chicago and Cook County are on their way to paying a $13-an-hour minimum wage. Should the state of Illinois increase its minimum wage, which is currently $8.25 an hour? Please explain.
Senger: I don’t believe in further increases in the mandated minimum wage at this juncture. Our economy has dramatically improved in the past year. Illinois’ unemployment rate has decreased nearly a percentage point from 5.1% in July 2017 to 4.3% in July 2018 (http://www.ides.illinois.gov/).
Due to this improvement, many who have been sitting on the sidelines through the downturn are finally returning to the workforce. Entry level jobs that pay minimum wage provide opportunities to learn the skills necessary to advance in a job. If labor costs go up, the pool of available entry level jobs go down, hurting opportunities for job-seekers at that level. The job market is showing signs of confident workers voluntarily quitting their job for other opportunities; and hourly earnings increased by 2.9% (https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/07/us-nonfarm-payrolls-aug-2018.html).
I have reviewed studies that say the wage hike hasn’t reduced jobs in Chicago, but then other studies claim the opposite. With the upturn in the market and inconclusive data studies, I believe that we should see how the new demand for a smaller supply of workers helps their bottom line.
When is it appropriate for the comptroller to take public positions on legislation before the General Assembly?
Senger: I spent my professional career analyzing investment portfolios. As a Naperville City Councilman and as a state representative in the IL General Assembly, I was asked to participate and advise on fiscal policy and weigh in on fiscal legislation. That was and still is my greatest contribution at the state level.
For future budgets, I plan to be an active participant in the appropriation process. As a legislator, I served on three appropriation committees: Human Services, Education and General Services. As Comptroller, I can explain how legislative decisions will ultimately affect how the bills will be paid.
I believe that a Comptroller with a financial background such as mine has an important obligation to assist in improving Illinois’ finances and should take public positions pertaining to such.
What are the biggest differences, as the potential comptroller, between you and your opponent?
Senger: Politics aside, I believe I have the most experience for the job. My interest and dedication to this line of work began at Purdue University, where I earned a finance degree. I then pursued this passion further by earning an MBA from DePaul University. Regarding my professional experience, I worked as a director for a bank in their Trust Department, a pension consultant and an investment advisor, and the CFO for a state agency. I also have experience with and understand municipal and state governments. Because of these collective experiences, I have a plethora of policy suggestions to develop for tax savings.
Incumbent Mendoza has spent her entire career earning a salary on the taxpayer dime; yet, she has never held a job where she personally had to manage money and budgets and think creatively about doing more with less. The ‘Illinois way’ of politics has been ingrained into how she runs her office. She continues to focus on political opportunism and enhancing her image as opposed to doing what is right for the residents of IL. As Comptroller, she continues to advocate for tax increases and more borrowing which is the last thing the residents of our great state need.
Illinois doesn’t need any more politicians who grandstand for personal gain. We need individuals willing to make the tough choices to solve our most difficult problems. I am not running for this office to look for the next steps in my political career. I am running for Comptroller because I believe I possess the necessary fiscal and policy acumen that can benefit taxpayers from day one. I want to bring a new level of efficiency and innovation to the office that will improve Illinois’ fiscal future.
I believe that the Comptroller’s primary role is to be a public servant and to maintain an independent perspective. This position should not be used to bolster the Comptroller’s political agenda or serve as an opportunity to boost a particular political platform. This is simply unfair to the hardworking residents and taxpayers of the state.
Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.