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More transparency on state government agency debt under new law

By Greg Bishop 
Illinois News Network

Illinois taxpayers should know by the end of the month, and every month going forward, how much debt state government agencies are accumulating, thanks to the Debt Transparency Act.

The law took effect Jan. 1 after lawmakers overwhelmingly overrode the governor’s veto of the bill in November. The law requires executive agencies to report to the Illinois comptroller outstanding debt every month, rather than every year. Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s director of communications, Abdon Pallasch, said the comptroller’s office has been working with the various agencies.

“This is all information they have in house about what bills they have, whether there’s an appropriation for them or not and whether there are late payment interest penalties accruing with them,” Pallasch said.

“We’ll find out in the coming weeks how easily they’re complying with it,” he said.

But Gov. Bruce Rauner has said state agencies need money the comptroller froze for updated reporting systems. Pallasch said they’re still waiting for some answers to questions about millions of dollars in consultant contracts involving Illinois’ Department of Innovation and Technology.

“Some of the funds have been released in the interim as we’ve gotten a few answers,” Pallasch said, “But we’re still waiting for complete answers for all the questions.”

Knowing how much debt state agencies have each month will help lawmakers craft a new budget, Pallasch said.

“[Legislators] were working with dated information,” he said.

The next budget begins July 1.

Pallasch said the figures will also help the comptroller manage what bills to pay and when.

“In the past, there was no transparency there,” Pallasch said. “We just didn’t know if that all of a sudden overnight you’d get a billion dollars of past due bills from a certain agency.”

He also said nearly a billion dollars in late interest payments wasn’t apparent for months last year because there wasn’t a requirement to report the numbers regularly.

The new law doesn’t require the comptroller to report to taxpayers what agencies report to the comptroller, but Pallasch said Mendoza will post the numbers online. He said they’ll also push for a follow-up bill to require future comptrollers to do the same.

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