EAST MOLINE — As an advocate of transparency and truth in action, Susana Mendoza says she will continue the path of sound financial management if she is re-elected as comptroller.
“I will continue to be a truth-telling fiscal watchdog who protects taxpayer dollars,” Mendoza said. “Every day is hard, but it’s also the most rewarding job because I know I am making a difference in the lives of people every day.”
Mendoza, 46, was elected comptroller in 2016 in a special election following the death of Judy Baar Topinka, who held the post since 2010. She will go up against Republican opponent and former state Rep. Darlene Senger in the Nov. 6 election.
The function of the comptroller is to pay the state’s bills, audit municipalities and monitor state funds; effectively working as the state’s chief financial officer.
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“It’s been my greatest privilege to serve in this office for the past two years,” Mendoza said. “In this short amount of time, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work. I’ve probably done about 10 years worth of work in a year and a half. We have so many accomplishments, but there is still so much more to do. That’s why I chose to run for another term.”
In a meeting Monday with the Dispatch-Argus editorial board, Mendoza said what she’s been able to accomplish in less than two years is more impressive considering she navigated through the “state’s worst fiscal crisis,” she said.
“Just my record by itself and what we’ve done over the last few years would merit the chance to continue the work yet to be done,” Mendoza said. “It’s been hard work, but at the same time, rewarding. I said two years ago that I would not be sitting behind my desk — that I would be moving fast to get things done. I hope I’ve surpassed expectations.”
Mendoza said she was most proud of her work in introducing the Debt Transparency Act last year. Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill, but it was overridden in a bipartisan show of support by both houses and became law in November 2017.
The law requires state agencies to report monthly unpaid balances to the comptroller, including late payment and interest penalties.
Before the Debt Transparency Act, bills were sent to the comptroller to be paid after vendors provided services. If bills were held back by agencies because of processing delays or a lack of funds, the comptroller was kept in the dark over unpaid balances.
“I get new monthly reporting, versus outdated yearly reporting, which was completely useless by the time I received it,” Mendoza said. “The Debt Transparency Act is really the building block of everything that follows. It allows me to see monthly what the statewide liabilities are. I also know how old those bills are.”
Mendoza said her office publishes monthly reports and that state agencies have been 100 percent compliant.
“It’s been incredibly helpful information for the legislature and for the agencies themselves,” she said. “It’s been helpful for the public, and for my office to manage through the fiscal crisis and be able to manage debt.”
Mendoza said anyone could view state debt by going to the comptroller’s website, illinoiscomptroller.gov, and click on the “financial data” link for more information.
Mendoza said other accomplishments included passage of the Lender Transparency Act and the Truth in Hiring Act, which requires the governor’s office to include all of the governor’s staff in the governor’s office budget, and not hidden in state agency budgets.
Since Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Sept. 4 he will not seek re-election, many have speculated Mendoza will run for the post.
Mendoza, who served as the first female city clerk of Chicago from 2011 to 2016 in Emanuel’s administration, said she was undecided whether she would run for mayor. She could be re-elected as comptroller and still have time to file candidacy papers for mayor by the Nov. 26 deadline. The Chicago municipal election is Feb. 26.
“Even before this mayoral opportunity popped up, everything I’ve done as comptroller and as city clerk, has always been to leave it better than when I took it over; to leave a blueprint in place,” she said.
“I don’t know for sure if I am going to run for mayor of Chicago. It’s not something I am entertaining until I am done with my race.”
Mendoza said Rauner, as governor, made her job more difficult. If J.B. Pritzker is elected as governor, she expects things to be much smoother moving forward.
“With the toxicity in Springfield with the governor, he and I just do not work well together,” Mendoza said. “I really had to manage this fiscal crisis with no help. I would actually have to fix mistakes and actions the governor took to make our financial situation even worse. I had to fight unwise decisions the governor made that impacted our finances in a negative way.
“I would hope with a Democratic governor, I won’t have to fight for smart fiscal policy. The Debt Transparency Act was vetoed by Gov. Rauner when it should have been embraced by him. He’s never run a business where the chief financial officer could only see half the bills. You would never tolerate that in private business. Why is it OK in government?
“I don’t work for the governor. The comptroller serves as a check and balance on the governor. I work with the governor and for the people.”
Unlike Senger, Mendoza does not support the idea of merging the offices of comptroller and treasurer. She cites the state’s history with embezzlement and corruption as a reason to keep the offices separate and as a check and balance on the other. She said Standard & Poor’s could also downgrade the state’s credit rating further if the offices are merged.
If re-elected, Mendoza said another priority would be modernizing technology in the comptroller’s office.
Mendoza said she was the better choice to remain comptroller because of her experience and record of success.
“The record of service I’ve done over these last two years are more than enough reason for people to see me again. It’s been super hard, but at the same time, incredibly rewarding for me to take the fight forward and stand up for taxpayers.”