Topinka deflects criticism, seeks second comptroller term

  • Republican Judy Baar Topinka, left, and Democrat Sheila Simon are running for state comptroller.

    Republican Judy Baar Topinka, left, and Democrat Sheila Simon are running for state comptroller.

  • Republican Judy Baar Topinka says she's "very passionate" about combining the state comptroller and treasurer offices.

    Republican Judy Baar Topinka says she's "very passionate" about combining the state comptroller and treasurer offices. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Updated 9/23/2014 10:13 PM

Judy Baar Topinka admits she likes public service after three terms as state treasurer and now campaigning for a second term as state comptroller against Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.

The Republican from Riverside has sought to fend off criticism from Simon that she asked the governor to help her son get a job, handed a no-bid contract for $40,000 to a Republican friend, and paid some vendors' bills to the state more quickly than others.


"There's no transparency on who requests that and who's getting expedited payments," Simon told the Daily Herald.

Topinka, in a separate meeting with the Daily Herald editorial board, countered: "I don't think she (Simon) understands it. When you have hardship cases, the vendor or agency calls us and they're about to go belly up. We check it out and find that it's true, we move them up the line to be paid. If we don't pay them, what happens to them, to the agency or the people they serve? The elderly, the foster children? If they close, we could have chaos."

Topinka touts saving $85 million by modernizing the comptroller's office, hunting down truant municipalities for their annual reports, and pushing to consolidate the state treasurer and comptroller offices. Topinka, who served as state treasurer from 1995 to 2007, was first elected to state comptroller in 2010. She's up for a second term in November.

One longtime issue she has pushed is combining the state comptroller and treasurer offices. Topinka said she's close to accomplishing that goal.

"I think it can get on the ballot next time, despite the minions of (speaker of the House) Mike Madigan. I can be a horrendous nag," she said.

She said she is "very passionate" about combining the offices to save taxpayer money, and had even hoped to include the lieutenant governor's office as well. But that would take further changes in the legislation.

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Topinka said her accomplishments during her first term as comptroller include establishing the Ledger, an online financial database with daily balances, state bill backlogs and all state employee salaries that can be accessed by taxpayers. She said she saved about $85 million by ending state mailings for checks less than the cost of the paper and postage. She said she cracked down on several municipalities to get them to submit late or missing financial reports. She built partnerships with small business owners and social service organizations to prevent closings and service cuts due to state payment delays. And she said she has modernized the comptroller's office with electronic payments and record keeping.

In fact, Simon has accused Topinka of continuing the backdoor style of politics in Illinois, such as asking Gov. Pat Quinn to help her son get a job and hiring a Republican party friend for a $40,000 no-bid contract.

Patrick Brady, a former Republican Party chairman, and his lobbyist firm, Next Generation Public Affairs, was paid $40,000 by Topinka's office from March through June. Topinka said he worked with delinquent municipalities to get them to submit their mandatory annual reports. Why Brady? "Because I know he's good," Topinka said. "These people don't come cheap."

She said the state needed someone with his experience, expertise and connections to do the job and it was accomplished. It was a no-bid contract and her office was not required to seek other bids for the job. Brady then whittled down a list of 226 delinquent municipalities to about 20, which then were forwarded to the state attorney general's office for enforcement, Topinka said.

Also, Topinka defended her request to Quinn to help her son. She approached Quinn during the state fair in Springfield this summer. "I didn't say, 'Get him a job.' If he could take a look at the resume, and if he sees something worthwhile, then great. If not, fine. Throw it away," she said. "We put his resume out everywhere. I want him back here. He's in Texas now. This is just the price of a momism here, and I'll take the rap for that," Topinka said.

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