Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza spent a decade serving Chicago’s Southwest Side as a state representative. That experience — that legislative savvy — really showed last year when she succeeded, as comptroller, in pushing through legislation to make the state’s bill-paying process more transparent.
Soon after taking office two years ago, Mendoza saw a sizable deficiency in the way state agencies reported their bills.
“I was surprised to learn,” she wrote in a Sun-Times candidate questionnaire, “that I couldn’t see half the state’s bills.”
State agencies, Mendoza discovered, were allowed to sit on bills for a year or longer before turning them over to the comptroller. That was something nobody would tolerate with mortgage or credit card payments, she reasoned, and it wasn’t doing the state of Illinois any good, either.
To fix the problem, Mendoza spearheaded passage of the Debt Transparency Act, gathering support for the bill from both Democrats and Republicans. Then, after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill, she went around the state to champion the bill with newspaper editorial boards.
The final result: The General Assembly overrode Rauner’s veto, and now the comptroller’s office receives monthly reports on all bills. There is a more full and honest accounting.
Mendoza, a Democrat, took over the comptroller’s office in the middle of the state budget standoff between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, also a Democrat. Like her Republican predecessor, Leslie Munger, she did a credible job of triage when it came to deciding which bills to prioritize for payment — because there wasn’t nearly enough money to pay them all. And she used the bully pulpit of her office to let the public know just how bad the state’s finances were.
Mendoza also led an effort, to which Rauner ultimately agreed, to refinance a large portion of the state’s unpaid back bills. Instead of paying 12 percent interest on most of that debt, the state now will pay 3.5 percent, saving taxpayers at least $4 billion over the life of the bond deal.
Mendoza has been more of a political player than the usual Illinois comptroller, which cuts both ways for us. While it probably was for the greater good, for example, that she loudly urged legislators to override the governor’s budget veto last year, we can only hope she’ll be just as tough on a fellow Democrat, J.B. Pritzker, if he is elected governor.
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