Susana A. Mendoza: 2022 candidate for Illinois comptroller
Office sought: Illinois comptroller
Occupation: Illinois Comptroller
Previous offices held: State Representative, IL House District 1 (2001-2011), Chicago City Clerk (2011-2016), Illinois Comptroller (2016-present)
Q: How efficiently do you think the comptroller's office operates currently. What, if anything, would you do to streamline the office?
A: The Comptroller's Office operates far more efficiently now than it did when I took office nearly six years ago. The office used to take 210 days on average to pay state bills. Today, my oldest voucher is 11 days old. I have reduced the backlog of unpaid bills from $16.7 billion to an Accounts Payable of $2 billion. The Comptroller's Office has more responsibilities now than when I took office, but I handle them efficiently with fewer staff than my predecessor and with a budget 10 percent lower than when I took office. Yes, you read that right. When is the last time you heard a statewide elected official able to report that kind of streamlining? But that's only the beginning of the changes I have made and am continuing to make to run the office more efficiently. I have launched a modernization of the old mainframe Statewide Accounting Management System (SAMS). This high-tech modernization using state capital funds will allow for a much more efficient paying of the state's bills.
Q: What experiences and qualifications have prepared you for success in this office?
A: Growing up in a loving immigrant household with barely enough money to pay the bills is great training for serving as Illinois Comptroller. With my business degree from Truman State University, I worked in the hospitality and marketing industries before being elected the youngest member of the Illinois General Assembly in 2000. There I got a great education in how Illinois government works, and I forged great relationships with members on both sides of the aisle that helped me pass my landmark transparency legislation since being elected Comptroller. After being elected Chicago City Clerk in 2011, I set out to change the 100 year-old way Chicago collects its city sticker fees. "You can't do that," I was told. I can and I will, I responded. Now instead of waiting four hours in line once a year in June as happened for 100 years, people spend four minutes in line or on their laptop renewing stickers year-round, which saves the city millions of dollars annually.
Q: What should be the comptroller's role in managing payment of the state's bills? What, if anything, needs to be changed in this process?
A: The drafters of the state's 1970 constitution decided the Comptroller should be an independently elected office because the person paying the state's bills should be guided by conscience and held accountable to voters for deciding which bills to pay first. During the state's budget impasse, I was forced to decide which providers of state services could be paid and which would have to wait. When I took office, nursing homes and hospice centers had not been paid in more than six months while politically connected IT consultants were on speed-pay. I immediately reversed that. At times I felt like Jimmy Stewart from "It's a Wonderful Life" telling state vendors, "I know the state owes you more but how much can I give you to get by on?" Thankfully, we got through that and now my oldest voucher is 11 days old. Elect good, responsible people to these offices - that's the solution.
Q: Should the comptroller's and treasurer's offices be combined? Why or why not and if so, how?
A: No. The drafters of the 1970 state constitution created the Comptroller and Treasurer's offices as independently elected constitutional offices to serve as an important check-and-balance on each other and on the Governor and the state's other financial officers. Why? The previous combined Comptroller-Treasurer, Auditor of General Accounts, Orville Hodge, was able to embezzle the equivalent of $65 million in today's dollars. Think that can't happen today? Wrong. In 2012, Dixon's combined Comptroller-Treasurer Rita Crundwell embezzled the equivalent of $69 million in today's dollars. The bond rating agencies have already warned us they would see it as a "credit negative" for Illinois if the offices were merged. Removing that important internal control, they warn, could result in a downgrade which would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in higher borrowing costs. With no duplicated efforts between the offices, a merger would save the state nothing, and in fact be very costly.