By Greg Bishop
Illinois News Network
A government finance watchdog applauds the initiative behind Illinois’ Debt Transparency Act, but said it needs to go further. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office agrees.
The House was unanimous last week overriding Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of House Bill 3649, which requires monthly bill reporting. The Senate is expected to follow suit when they return next week.
Truth In Accounting Research Director Bill Bergman said the measure makes Rauner accountable to the comptroller to report monthly bills, accrued interest and whether the spending was appropriated, but it doesn’t require Mendoza report that to the public. Bergman said it should.
“This sounds like it’s a lot more work, but this is work that should already be done, and we should be allowed as citizens to see the work that’s been done,” Bergman said.
The comptroller’s Communications Director Abdon Pallasch said Mendoza will report that info.
“When this new information comes in we will likewise make that all available to the public,” Pallasch said. “Yes, that will all be up there.”
The comptroller currently publishes an estimate of the state’s backlog of bills. As of late last week that number was more than $16.3 billion.
In a letter to lawmakers earlier this month Mendoza said her office is uncertain of the real backlog amount because the law only requires annual reporting of bills. That’s why she said HB 3649 was so important.
Pallasch said there’s a lot of financial information housed on the comptroller’s website, illinoiscomptroller.gov, but he said there are a lot of hoops the public has to jump through to find it.
What about future comptrollers? Bergman said the measure Rauner vetoed and the House overrode doesn’t require the comptroller to report the same information to the public the governor’s agencies would have to report to the comptroller.
“Bingo,” Pallasch said. “That’s exactly the reason that that should be codified in the law, because who knows who will be comptroller in the years to come? So that should eventually become part of the law that requires that information to become public.”
Mendoza’s office initiated HB 3649 and lobbied lawmakers in the House to override the measure.
Bergman said it’s important taxpayers know the state’s true financial picture.
“In the future, we’re going to have to pay taxes based in part on the cost of delaying the bill payments, and that’s something that Illinois citizens should be very energetically interested in, if not angry about,” Bergman said.
Bergman said seeing the amount of interest taxpayers are on the hook for because of the backlogged bills will allow them to pressure lawmakers to have more spending discipline “that’s been absent in the past.”
Rauner vetoed the bill, calling it a political trick, and said lack of funding for technology upgrades will make it difficult to implement.
The Senate’s expected to take up the bill next month.
To pay down the old bills, lawmakers authorized $6 billion of additional taxpayer debt through bonds. Rauner announced those bonds in several offerings earlier this month with more expected in December.