Comptroller Susana Mendoza might have surprised a few luncheon guests on Monday when she suggested she wanted to praise Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“I did ask my staff to put together a thorough list of [Rauner’s] accomplishments over the last few years so I could read them to you here today,” she told a receptive audience at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.
Mendoza then rustled a sheet of paper and looked at it in exaggerated befuddlement before slowly reading: “This page intentionally left blank.”
Most in the audience of the non-partisan group’s event probably suspected the Democrat was just looking for another opportunity to fling nearly every arrow in her quiver at her quiver at her political rival.
“As we’ve had the chance to open the books and see what’s happened over the last two years, we’ve found some pretty jaw dropping spending,” Mendoza said.
She pointed to the state’s Health Care Provider Relief Fund as an example.
The fund exists to pay medical providers who bill the state, many of whom have been waiting months, Mendoza said.
“What we found is that over the past two years, the governor has paid out $112 million from that fund not for doctors or medical services, but for consulting and management fees and contracts for computer software,” she said.
Rauner spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis responded:
“Like most of Comptroller Mendoza’s wild accusations, her latest defies reality. The fact is that the expenses she referenced are in support of the Medicaid program and a large portion of the expense was covered by federal matching dollars.”
Mendoza slammed Rauner for having misplaced priorities and made clear her intention to continue to lay a fresh set of critical eyes on the state’s balance sheet.
“We’re just probably scratching the surface of what we’re going to find out as we dig deeper into the books,” said Mendoza, who took office in December after defeating her predecessor, Republican Leslie Munger — a Rauner appointee.
Mendoza said she was “looking into every single fund diligently” and — because of her self declared efforts to prioritize the state’s neediest and most vulnerable — compared her office to one of cinema’s all-time nice guys
“We’re playing George Bailey in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’” she said, implying that Rauner fills the role of greedy protagonist Henry F. Potter.
“We’re just trying to keep Gov. Rauner from turning Illinois into Pottersville,” she said.
Rauner fired his own shot at Mendoza by issuing a statement claiming that she drastically cut payments to health care providers and vendors who were owed money by the state’s Department on Aging.
“The Rauner Administration today called on Comptroller Susana Mendoza to reverse her disturbing decision to cut payments to social service organizations serving our state’s most vulnerable residents,” the statement said.
Mendoza spokesman Abdon Pallasch said the claim was a mirage and disingenuous, and that Mendoza put a larger dent into backlogged Department on Aging bills per month than her predecessor.
“I’m not picking on him because he’s a Republican, I’m picking on him because he’s a terrible governor. It’s that simple,” Mendoza told the City Club crowd, criticizing the governor’s inability to pass a budget.
“Bruce Rauner is on the record having said, dating all the way back to March 2013, that if he was given an opportunity to shut down government to be able to pass things through like his pet projects, that is what he was going to do. It’s no secret that his long term game is to just cripple organized labor in the state of Illinois.”
Mendoza sidestepped whether delving into a war of words accomplishes anything at a time when the state’s financial affairs grow more abysmal by the day — including a deficit of more than $130 billion and pension liabilities of $116 billion.
“When I see something I’m going to call it out,” she said.
“I think he suffers from, like, Rauner-itis, it’s, like, the inability to accept responsibility for any problems, and unfortunately that can continue and it’s going to be a disease that infects a lot of people. But I am immune to it. I accept responsibility when I need to,” she said.