Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, the Democrat candidate for comptroller, said Wednesday that she would find "efficiencies" by eliminating the division of consumer affairs and combining some resources of the state comptroller and treasurer's offices.
The Consumer Affairs Division of the comptroller's office duplicates other state agencies, including the state attorney general's office, Simon said. Because Illinois is so financially troubled, it doesn't make sense to continue duplicating services, she said.
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"We only need one consumer agency, and I would keep it at the attorney general's office," Simon said.
Simon, in a meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board, said she would look for ways to save money and offer more transparency on how bills are paid, especially when they are expedited over other bills without clear reasons. The Nov. 4 election comes at a time when the state owes billions of dollars to vendors and social service agencies.
Brad Hahn, campaign spokesman for Republican incumbent Judy Baar Topinka, said the comptroller's Consumer Affairs Division assists "tens of thousands of vendors that are owed money by the state at any point in time. Comptroller Topinka created the division to give vendors a direct line to check on overdue payments from state government. It is not duplicative, just an innovative way of making government accessible to taxpayers."
Simon, a Democrat from Carbondale and daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, advocates combining some resources between the state comptroller and treasurer to save money, but not necessarily merging the two offices as advocated by Topinka, a step that would require a constitutional amendment.
As for her lieutenant governor's office, Simon said she has reduced the staff from 30 to 16 and cut spending by $425,000 between fiscal year 2012 and 2015.
She said Topinka increased her office budget by $1.5 million and attributed that to pay raises, ranging from 3 percent to 15 percent, she said Topinka gave to her employees in her first year in office.
Topinka has taken the office head count to the lowest point in history and added efficiencies like electronic deposit and the online state ledger, resulting in the lowest comptroller's office budget since 1998, Hahn countered.
"In fact, the comptroller has returned more than 11 percent annually, and $8.4 million aggregately from her operating budget in three years, since taking office," Hahn said.
Simon said she aims to set up a system of accountability for state spending, saying some bills are "scooted to the head of the line" for payment.
"There's no transparency on who requests that and who's getting expedited payments," Simon said.
She also aims to gather all financial statements from taxing bodies around the state and post them online to clearly show taxpayers where their money is being spent.
The one-term lieutenant governor said she is targeting the comptroller's office because "I can do a better job than what's been going on there."