Candidate Profile: Susana Mendoza

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza
Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza AP

Name: Susana A. Mendoza

Office seeking: State Comptroller

Party: Democratic

Age: 46

City of residence: Chicago

Campaign website: www.susanamendoza.com

Why are you running and why should people vote for you? 1) Accountability: You want to know how your tax dollars are being spent, right? So do I. I have done about ten years’ worth of work in less than two years as Comptroller. I launched a transparency revolution that lets taxpayers see for the first time how their money is being spent. Before my Debt Transparency Act, the governor’s agencies only reported their account balances once a year. Do you balance your checkbook only once a year? Now taxpayers can view agency-by-agency detail of how the state spends their money on our website. 2) Saving Taxpayer money: When I took office, the Governor’s Department heads appeared before legislative appropriations committees refusing to offer any cuts in their budgets. I volunteered to cut my budget. I submitted the lowest budget for the Comptroller’s office in 20 years.3) Priorities: The Comptroller must make value judgements about which state vendors owed money by the state will be paid first. Honoring our debt service and pension obligations; keeping nursing homes and hospices afloat; keeping the state’s school doors open – all take precedence over less urgent uses of state funds.

What qualifications do you have for this position? I have proven my skills in my almost two years in office, passing five major bills with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan majorities, opening up the state’s books for taxpayers to see. In my 10 years as a legislator, I learned to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle and I have brought those skills and relationships with me to the Comptroller’s office. As Comptroller, I fought for and championed a bonding deal that allowed our state to refinance $6 billion worth of debt that we were paying 12 percent interest on, to a much lower rate of 3.5 percent, saving taxpayers a net $4 billion-$6 billion in late payment interest penalties. My reassurances to Illinois investors that my office will prioritize debt service and pension payments has been met with praise from the ratings agencies that used to downgrade Illinois’ bond ratings before I took office. My success in cutting my office budget and doing more with less has allowed me to return $1 million to the state treasury. As City Clerk of Chicago, I spearheaded a successful technology upgrade and converted century-old once-a-year car-sticker sales to year-round sales, saving city taxpayers millions of dollars a year.

What is the most important issue facing the Comptroller’s office? How would you handle it? Transparency. Once you get past the main function of paying the state’s bills as timely as revenues allow; paying the most important ones first; a strong focus of our office will continue to be showing taxpayers how their money is being spent. My landmark Debt Transparency Act requires all state agencies to report to my office monthly, rather than yearly, how many unpaid bills they are sitting on; whether that spending was appropriated; how old those bills are; and whether we are accruing late payment interest penalties on them. No longer can governors hide the state’s liabilities from the Comptroller or from taxpayers for up to a year. We post this information on our revamped website for taxpayers, journalists and legislators to see.Legislators for the first time this year had current instead of year-old financial data as they crafted this year’s consensus budget. I am working with my Technology department on a more thorough modernizing of our website,computer and payroll functions that will continue making the Comptroller’s office the state’s best source of state budget and finance information.

There is still a bill backlog of billions of dollars. How would you prioritize the state’s bill backlog? When I took office, bills owed to hospice centers were backlogged six months. Some nursing homes were on the verge of closing because the state had not paid them in so long. Quarterly categorical payments in the state’s schools were running nearly a year behind. Social service agencies around the state were closing, cutting back services, laying off staff. Who WAS getting paid? Certain government contractors. My predecessor quietly transferred $70 million in the days before I took office to pay some connected consultants. I quickly re-arranged priorities. Debt service payments and pension obligations are paid every month on-time and in-full. Medicaid and General State Aid payments are next. Nursing homes, hospice centers, children and adults with disabilities and those caring for them are at the front of the line once those other mandated payments are met. I will continue prioritizing education payments from early childhood through K-12, colleges and universities. With billions still in the backlog, my office continues to operate in triage mode, making sure that we are able to be responsive to struggling vendors who are on the verge of missing payrolls or struggling to stay in business.

Would you term limit yourself? If so, how many terms? I believe elections are the best term limits.If I try to stay in the Comptroller’s office beyond the time I am innovatingand energetically representing taxpayers, the voters would have the ability toreplace me at the polls.