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 Libertarian Claire Ball is running for the office.
The Sun-Times 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. Ball 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?
Ball: The Comptroller is responsible for payment authorization and financial reporting for the state, the essence of an accounting department. In Illinois, the annual financial reports are released late every year, as many as 259 days beyond the due date in one instance. This keeps the citizens in the dark about the spending of their state, as well as those evaluating Illinois for credit rating or bond debt purposes. As Comptroller, I will release the financial reports on time, which would also benefit annual budget discussions.
Coupled with that, I will report to the people quarterly on state finances with reports showing budgeted versus actual expenditures to provide some insight and accountability that our state is meeting budgets, and call out instances where they are not. This would also serve to encourage responsible financial decisions; to spotlight poor spending and bad financial management when they are still in a position to make changes (as opposed to after the year is over and done with) will drive better results. I will also analyze local municipalities’ finances and publish resulting reports that show current financial trends and areas that can be improved.
Who is Claire Ball?
She’s running for: Illinois comptroller
Her political/civic background: Claire first ran for political office in 2015 for trustee at College of DuPage. She didn’t win, but the three who did win liked her so much, she was appointed to the budget committee for the following two years, and only turned down a third year to focus on her 2018 run. She also ran for IL Comptroller in 2016.
Her occupation: Senior Accountant for the Noble Network of Charter Schools in Chicago. She is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). She has been working professionally as an accountant for over 12 years, previously working for US Cellular, and First Industrial commercial properties here in Chicago.
Her education: Bachelors and Masters Degree in Accounting and Finance from DeVry University and Keller School of Management, respectively.
Campaign website: ClaireBallForIllinois.com
What would be your top three priorities?
Ball: As an accountant, it is difficult to gauge my top three priorities only. Illinois finances need major attention from the inside out. But if I must, my first priority will be to get the financial reports out on time and establish quarterly budget-to-actual reports, which will provide real transparency and accountability to state finances. My second priority will be to analyze local municipality finances, to identify and investigate questionable spending, and to be a resource for government finance as many of the local levels do not understand the reporting requirements for the state. My third priority will be to identify areas of the Comptroller’s budget that can be reduced or eliminated, including working with the Treasurer to combine office functions and reduce spending even more.
Our state now has a budget, but it continues to struggle with an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills. How would you prioritize which bills get paid first?
Ball: I would prioritize which bills get paid first by analyzing those with the greatest need and most limited resources to survive. This should not be a question; there should be clearly established criteria that detail the order of payment beyond mandatory and court-ordered payments. As Comptroller, I will establish a table of priority that details the order of vendor payment so everyone knows who will be paid and, most importantly, why. The top of the list should be social service providers, such as mental health facilities, veteran services and elderly care, because they rely most on funding from the state in order to operate, followed by small business owners because they do not have a large a pool of resources to rely on while waiting for payment. When there is a need to deviate from the table, it should and will be explained. This criteria will hold the Comptroller’s office accountable to the people and give those waiting to be paid a timeline to plan around. It is responsible, accountable, and common sense in our financially-strapped state.
Do you support a constitutional amendment to merge the state offices of treasurer and comptroller? Why or why not?
Ball: I do not support this, as merging the roles of Treasurer and Comptroller will eliminate an important financial check that Illinois needs to maintain. Accounting standards stress the importance of segregation of duties in certain areas in order to keep the risks of fraud to a minimum. In any good accounting system, the duties of authorization, recordkeeping, and custody of assets should always be held by separate people because giving any one person that level of authority makes it extremely easy to commit fraud and cover up their tracks.
In Illinois, the Comptroller is responsible for payment authorization and financial recordkeeping, while the Treasurer holds custody of financial assets, with the caveat that he/she is not allowed to take possession of any monies until the Comptroller has recorded them. This is an extremely valuable check on each office; Illinois already has a well-earned reputation of corrupt politicians, from governors down to local aldermen serving jail time, and should not be eliminated over the vague idea of saving money. I say vague, because there is no detail to back up the proposed $12 to $14 million dollars in savings and I will not advocate for removing a sound internal control without first verifying the numbers are correct. This is especially important in Illinois, the land of “balanced” unbalanced budgets. If this supposed savings is derived from the offices merging and sharing services and space, what is stopping them from making those changes now? Why do they need a constitutional amendment to share a printer?
Also, by eliminating one constitutionally elected office, you are eliminating a choice of the people in selecting who they want in charge. I doubt anyone believes that once combined, the remaining officer will handle the full responsibilities of both the Comptroller and Treasurer. They cannot, as the roles are very different, and they will most likely establish deputy level roles, which will be appointed. How will that do more than eliminate one elected office and replace it with several appointed ones? It won’t. I will advocate for keeping the office holders separate while blending the offices and sharing services in order to achieve cost savings without eliminating an important check in our government.
Illinois’ unfunded pension liability has ballooned to more than $130 billion. What should be done about that?
Ball: According to Moody’s Investor’s Service, Illinois’ adjusted net unfunded pension liability rose to $250 billion in 2017 (https://www.moodys.com/research/Moodys-Unfunded-US-state-pension-liabilities-surge-in-fiscal-2017) before the tax increase in 2018. Pension costs already account for 25% of Illinois’ budget and that percentage is only going to grow in the coming years, curtesy of the Edgar ramp, pension holidays, funding flaws and excessive borrowing until bankruptcy is the only way out. Illinois needs to pass a constitutional amendment to remove the vagueness of the pension language and end the use of defined benefit plans, moving pensioners into 401K-style defined contribution plans instead. Illinois also should move the management of the plans to an independent entity with no government appointments or board members, similar to what Canada did in the 90’s with the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Investment returns make up a large amount of funding in any pension plan, and by moving the management of plans to an independent board the focus will be on the greatest long-term returns on investment, with no political influence.
There is a push in Illinois to legalize marijuana, in part to increase state revenue. What is your view on that?
Ball: As a libertarian I am in favor of legalizing cannabis. Not only would Illinois see increased revenue from taxation of recreational cannabis, there would also be a decrease in the costs of incarceration as less people are put behind bars for the victimless crime of recreational use. There are also the benefits of industrialized hemp products (recently passed), which will bring industry, jobs and business into Illinois. A major boon for a little plant.
Do you support a graduated income tax? Why or why not?
Ball: I do not. A graduated income tax serves nothing more than to punish people for ambition and career growth. It decreases productivity as there is no incentive to work harder when your increased wages will only be taxed more. People are already leaving Illinois in droves and a graduated income tax will only help them pack their bags faster. Illinois does not have a revenue problem – it has a spending problem, and a graduated income tax is like increasing the credit limit on a teenager’s credit card because it’s maxed out – the spending won’t stop until there is nothing left to spend.
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.
Ball: Many politicians believe that by increasing the minimum wage, the state is able to insure a basic standard of living for the people they serve. While the intent is noble, the theory does not hold true. Minimum wage increases hurt small businesses, which make up the majority of our economy, preventing them from expanding or forcing them to downsize. In places like Seattle and New York, minimum wage mandates have caused many small businesses to close their doors for good.
Such a suggested increase not only hurts small business, it hurts the very people it was meant to help: the poor. This is because the state literally creates a barrier to entry for unskilled workers, and limits the amount of employees a business can afford to hire. In fact, a study by Washington University following Seattle’s $15-an-hour minimum wage mandate found that the average low-wage earner actually lost $125 each month. This may not sound like a lot of money to some, but for many Illinoisans that can mean the difference between staying current on their rent or buying groceries. These studies aren’t new either. Another study showed that between 2006 and 2012, 1.2 million jobs were lost due to minimum wage increases. There are many ways for state government to help low-income people, but increasing the minimum wage would hurt those very people it is intended to help.
When is it appropriate for the comptroller to take public positions on legislation before the General Assembly?
Ball: The Comptroller is not a legislative role, nor should it be. As the Chief Financial Officer of the state, it is more than appropriate to take public positions on all legislative matters that have a financial impact, or a potential financial impact, to the state and the taxpayers. Pension reform, budgetary discussions, property or other tax-related matters are all areas that a Comptroller with a strong financial background can and should discuss, to give some perspective to these areas and stress the financial impacts of any legislation. Look at the pension reforms that were added to the FY19 budget; the vested buy-out option that relies on volunteers, the COLA reduction and spiking cap, all to be funded with a $1 billion dollar bond issuance.
These are not reforms – they are budgetary balancing acts with questionable assumptions on savings. This is exactly what a financially-minded Comptroller should speak against. CFO’s in companies are brought in on all major company decisions, so there is objective financial representation, and the state should be no different.
What are the biggest differences, as the potential comptroller, between you and your opponent?
Ball: Experience, independence, and focus.
Experience: I am the only candidate running with an educational background in accounting and finance, 12 years’ experience in accounting and finance, and I have my CPA. In any other industry, that would make me the only choice for the role of Comptroller, which is basically the CFO of the state.
Independence: I am the only candidate that can be truly independent of all political situations in Illinois. My opponents can say they are independent until they are blue in the face, but when push comes to shove, they have and will continue to put their party politics first. As a libertarian, I have no party bosses that control me; I will side with whatever the best option is for the taxpayers.
Focus: I am the only candidate running to do the job of Comptroller, and nothing else. I’m not interested in some big career in politics; you will never see me run for a legislature position, or to be mayor of Chicago – I want to improve and streamline the finances of Illinois and bring actual independence and objectivity to the office, which has been lacking in our 200 year history. That is why I am here.
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.