If there were any evidence that Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger has played politics when paying the state’s bills, favoring certain vendors to benefit Gov. Bruce Rauner and hurt House Speaker Mike Madigan, we would say dump her.
But we see no evidence at all.
On the contrary, Munger has run the office of comptroller with integrity since Rauner appointed her to the job 16 months ago. She was thrown into a tough spot, given that our state has no budget, more bills to pay than money to pay them, and thousands of vendors all but begging to be paid before they go under. Those vendors include dozens of social services agencies that care for the disabled, the poor and the elderly.
Best we can tell, Munger has used good sense and followed the rules, paying certain bills first as required by court orders, paying other bills promptly so as not to lose out on matching funds, and doling out what’s left with fairness and compassion.
This is not what you’ll hear from Munger’s Democratic opponent in the race for comptroller, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza. When the two candidates met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board, Mendoza insisted Munger could be much more systematic in deciding who gets paid first. But Mendoza couldn’t really say how that would work if she were elected.
We endorse Munger for comptroller. We see no good argument for a change at the top in that office at a time when so much else in state government is dysfunctional. Mendoza, too, might make a fine comptroller; as city clerk, she has done a terrific job of finding ways to save the city money. But Munger has earned the job.
Rauner appointed Munger, a former Helene Curtis Industries/Unilever executive, to the post last year after incumbent Judy Baar Topinka died. Since then, Munger repeatedly has sounded the alarm that the state must pass a balanced budget, describing the pain inflicted when the state does not pay its bills. But when doing so, she has pointedly declined to blame either the governor or the Democrats more.
Ask Munger what she thinks about Rauner’s agenda of pro-business reforms and she’ll tell you she likes it. But, unlike the governor, she has never argued those reforms should be a condition of passing a budget. Instead, she keeps a running count on her website of the state’s back bills — $8,734,618,305 as of 4 p.m. on Tuesday — to keep the pressure on everybody.
Munger also has told all the state’s elected officials, including the 177 members of the General Assembly, to get in line with all those unpaid vendors to get their paychecks. That works fine for us.
Munger says she will continue to push fiscal reforms, including creating two-year budget plans; issuing “overspending alerts” when agencies are spending too much, and rebuilding the state’s rainy-day fund. And, like Mendoza, she supports merging the offices of state comptroller and state treasurer to save money.
Just last week, as it happens, we wrote an editorial critical of the way Munger and wealthy allies of the governor have shifted roughly $3 million from her campaign fund to other candidates’ funds so as to avoid campaign finance limits. But the practice is not illegal — just lousy — and the Democrats would happily play the same game.
Also running are accountant Claire Ball of the Libertarian Party and union organizer Tim Curtin of the Green Party.
In this proxy war between Rauner and Madigan, we recommend a vote for Munger, who has done a commendable job of remaining a noncombatant.