Editorials

Illinois comptroller navigates through hurricane of red ink

Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger discusses the state’s bill backlog a year ago at a press conference in Edwardsville. Without a state budget, the bill backlog has grown to $7.88 billion and bills submitted in June will not be paid until November or December.
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger discusses the state’s bill backlog a year ago at a press conference in Edwardsville. Without a state budget, the bill backlog has grown to $7.88 billion and bills submitted in June will not be paid until November or December. News-Democrat

When you inherit a sinking ship in the middle of a hurricane, then find the sailors are dumping buckets of water into the vessel, you should expect to get wet. That’s the situation it seems Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger is in as Illinois heads deeper underwater.

Munger controls the state’s checkbook. Back in April she described the problem as equivalent to a homeowner with $100 in a checking account and $7,000 in bills. The bills are now equivalent to $8,770 — Illinois owes $8.77 billion in overdue bills.

She has taken some tough stances and made the best of the state’s embarrassing inability to pay.

She bumped up social service agencies near the front of the line. Because state lawmakers have failed to pass a budget for either fiscal year 2016 or 2017 and left the state’s spending uncontrolled, she put their checks at the end of the line. The 177 members of the General Assembly and the state’s constitutional officers cost Illinois $15.6 million a year. They just got their May paychecks this month.

Still, Munger is apparently getting soaked by the same discord that is directed at other state leaders. She is behind her challenger for state comptroller, 32 percent to 40 percent with 22 percent undecided, according to the recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s disapproval rating was 55 percent. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is even lower at 63 percent disapproval, dropping to 73 percent disapproval from everyone outside of Chicago (you have to wonder whether Satan would score that poorly).

Voters were also 80 percent in favor of term limits and 72 percent in favor of an independent group drawing legislative district boundaries. Those results tell you why Madigan and Co. worked so hard to ensure those items were not on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Munger’s opponent is Susana Mendoza, a Democrat. She doesn’t list any job experience other than being a state representative and then Chicago’s city clerk. Mendoza’s campaign funds are from organized labor and trial lawyers. Can you say, “career politician, Chicago Democrat, Madigan acolyte?”

Munger raised her family while building a career to become a top executive with Unilever Helene Curtis. She was not a politician, but did serve disabled adult charities and her alma mater, the University of Illinois, before she was appointed comptroller when Judy Baar Topinka died unexpectedly.

As comptroller, besides making the lawmakers wait for their checks, she has revamped the website to make it easier to find state spending and debt numbers, with the bill backlog front and center in big numbers. In person she is direct, real and vocal about the state’s fiscal crisis, with little of the politician’s veneer.

So if you are irate and looking to cast a vote against business as usual in Illinois, there are plenty of targets. Munger should not be one of them, because in the 20 months she has been in office her record is one of principle and transparency — exactly what we’d expect of a successor to Topinka.

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