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Illinois can save billions with computer upgrade

If you could spend $250 million and save three times that amount, would you do it?

New Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger is ready. She estimates that the state could save $750 million – that’s per year – by replacing its antiquated, disjointed computers with a single system. Estimated cost: $250 million ($50 million a year for five years). Now the state has 263 separate accounting systems that mostly can’t talk to each other. They’re so old that many of them still use COBOL, a foreign language to most of today’s computer programmers.

Munger said some outside businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars a year maintaining an outdated system of their own just so they can work with the state’s systems. And state workers are spending who knows how much trying to keep the old system functioning and getting the mishmash of information into a usable, understandable format.

Even in a state with severe financial problems, this expenditure is a nonpartisan no-brainer. Even if Illinois saves just half the estimate, the system would still almost immediately pay for itself. The state would finally have an efficient and effective way of keeping track of the taxpayers’ business.

Ohio and Pennsylvania recently invested in new accounting systems that are already paying dividends. Illinois lawmakers also need to invest in a new system during the spring legislative session. And if they don’t, they need to explain why they would pass up such a beneficial deal.