Party politics explains Springfield fight over debt reporting
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On Wednesday, the Illinois House overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill that requires all state agencies to report the amount of outstanding invoices that have NOT been sent to the comptroller’s office on a monthly basis.
The debate between the governor and Comptroller Susan Mendoza, who pushed for the legislation called the Debt Transparency Act, shows the dangers of political motives and maneuvering in Illinois.
First, let’s talk about the Debt Transparency Act, or House Bill 3649. This act refers to the bills that the public is unaware of, those not factored into the $15 billion in outstanding debt we owe. It’s a decent piece of accounting policy for the state, authored by the comptroller’s office, although with a state so bad at managing money, I would have rather started with quarterly reporting to allow agencies time to get used to it.
This bill received bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and briskly made its way to the
governor’s desk for a signature last month … and wound up in the trash.
Many are asking why the governor would veto such a straightforward bill that provides a greater measure of transparency into the accounting of the state. I was confused as well, until I read a quote from Hud Englehart, Rauner’s spokesman, saying “he [Rauner] vetoed this bill because the state does not have adequate technology in place to cost-effectively provide this information monthly.”
That sentence, to me, explains exactly why the bill was vetoed. In March, Mendoza stopped $27 million in payments for technology upgrades for the state IT systems. These upgrades were already appropriated, in process, and very necessary, but the comptroller held up the payments because she wasn’t convinced of the long-term savings versus the cost of implementation.
This tech upgrade happened to be a pet project of Rauner, who immediately issued a statement asking her to release the payments, lest it put the project, and sensitive data, at risk.
There is also the slow pace of older tech to consider; the efficiency alone will make up a good deal in
“cost savings.” Why would the comptroller refuse funding to modernize the IT systems when the funds were already appropriated and accounted for? Won’t this only cause more problems and issues, making a complicated, nontransparent process even LESS transparent?
Fast forward to August, where Mendoza’s Debt Transparency Act is sent to the governor’s desk. A reasonable bill meant to increase the transparency of the state’s debt, with bipartisan support, gets shut down. The only reason cited is lack of adequate technology.
We can’t expect government agencies to comply with additional monthly reporting AND get a better read on the finances when the systems they use are old, severely outdated, cumbersome, and too complex to manage.
The only answer I have for sure is that this is Illinois party politics. I disagreed with the comptroller then on the IT upgrades, and I disagree with the governor now on the Debt Transparency Act. This is one of the reasons Illinois is in such dire straits, and why it is so important to vote for people who will be respectful, professional, and use honesty and solid judgment in decisions that affect the people of Illinois.
Claire Ball is the Libertarian candidate for Illinois comptroller.