Even with an ocean separating them, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza managed to get under the skin of Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Rauner, fresh back from a 12-day trade mission to Poland and Germany, closed his return news conference by chiding Mendoza for reporting this week that the state had racked up more late payment fees under his administration than in the previous 18 years combined.
Mendoza pointed out that the state’s two-year budget stalemate under Rauner — and resulting backlog of unpaid bills — had caused the state to be hit with up to $1.14 billion in prompt payment penalties since July 2015.
That was $100 million more than the total from 1998 to 2015.
Rauner said Mendoza’s report was a “bunch of baloney, and that’s a nice word for it” for “saying somehow our administration is responsible for interest, for unpaid bills for decades. That is the most ridiculous preposterous statement.”
The governor said that as a state legislator Mendoza “voted for the deficits that have created the unpaid bills. She voted to support Blagojevich’s pension holiday that created huge liabilities that we’re funding now.”
“She created the problem, and now she puts out a memo and says, ‘Oh, it’s the Governor’s fault.’ Are you kidding me?” Rauner continued.
“We gotta get real here, ladies and gentlemen. There’s rascals and scoundrels who are misrepresenting the truth, and who are really responsible, and they’re trying to brush off that responsibility.”
Mendoza, who takes a particular delight in irritating the governor, shot back a response.
“Rauner lies. The numbers don’t,” she said.
“The truth hurts. The truth is, it took Governor Rauner only 2 ½ years to do more damage to Illinois’ finances than all the Democratic and Republican administrations and legislatures over the previous 18 years combined.”
Catching up on other developments that happened while he was out of the country, the governor shrugged off a decision by Democratic lawmakers to not attempt to override his veto of a bill to license gun shop owners.
“I don’t know that that’s particularly highly relevant one way or another. That particular bill wasn’t going to increase public safety materially at all,” Rauner said.
Some lawmakers have said they will try to rework the legislation to regulate gun shops and place it before him again, but Rauner didn’t sound interested.
“What we shouldn’t do is just have bills passed that are just a headline but don’t really matter, that don’t really keep people safer,” he said, promising his own package of proposals “in the next few weeks.”
Asked whether he plans to participate in debates with Democratic nominee J.B. Pritzker, Rauner told reporters: “Of course, we’re going to have debates.”
But he laughed off questions about whether state Sen. Sam McCann, a conservative Republican with union leanings, should be allowed to participate in those debates. Last week, McCann announced his plans to run for governor as a third party candidate.
“McCann is being used as a pawn by Pritzker and Madigan. We’re going to win in November,” the governor said.
The trade trip produced no immediate announcements of new or expanded foreign operations in Illinois, but Rauner said he expects to make some soon.