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House overrides veto of bill requiring monthly reports on state’s debt

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza meeting with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in September. File Photo. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD—Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is one step closer to gaining the ability to get a closer look at the state’s giant pile of unpaid bills on a monthly basis — a move the Democrat achieved with unanimous support on Wednesday in an Illinois House veto override.

The Illinois Senate plans to take up the override in November.

The Debt Transparency Act would require state agencies to report monthly the amount of bills being held, liabilities that are being appropriated and liabilities that may have late interest penalties. State agencies currently submit their unpaid bills once a year in October.

The state’s bill backlog is at a staggering $16.5 billion, according to the comptroller’s office.

“The one person in the state responsible for managing through any type of fiscal crisis or even good times fiscally has very limited visibility on the financials for the state of Illinois. It doesn’t make any sense,” Mendoza said after the House override.

Mendoza called it “an almost impossible task” to safeguard taxpayer dollars and manage cash or debt management without being able to see the bills more transparently.

Rauner vetoed the measure on Aug. 18, saying “the inclination” to be more transparent about the state’s finances is a “good one.” But he said her bill “more closely resembles an attempt by the Comptroller to micromanage executive agencies than an attempt to get the information most helpful to the monitoring of state government.”

Rauner too said it would divert limited funds and staff attention from their main duties in providing services to Illinois citizens.

Though the veto message appeared to take a political shot at Mendoza, bill sponsor state Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said the intent of the bill wasn’t a continuation of the Mendoza-Rauner war.

“I know on her end I can attest to this, it was never political. It’s just doing the right thing,” Crespo said.

Also on Wednesday, the House voted to override Rauner’s veto of a bill that would stop employers from asking for wage histories from job applicants. Proponents of the bill said it was intended to try to narrow the pay gap between men and women by keeping low salaries from following them to a next job. The House also voted to override a veto of a bill that requires that cursive writing be taught in schools, with its main sponsor arguing cursive can be used for note taking, signing documents and reading historical texts. The governor vetoed it because he said it was an unfunded mandate on schools. Both of those bills now head to the Senate.

And a bill heralded by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to establish a Student Loan Bill of Rights was also overridden by the House and now heads to the Senate. It was created as a way to address widespread abuses and failures in the student loan industry, which were revealed by Madigan’s investigation and lawsuit against Navient, one of the country’s largest student loan companies. Navient has denied allegations.