Is a CPA needed to pay the state's bills?
While Republican comptroller candidate Shannon Teresi made the case that Illinois -- currently run by Democrats -- needs more checks and balances, incumbent Susana Mendoza said her stewardship of the state's finances in recent years makes her an easy choice for reelection.
"Before I took office, my predecessors had earned eight consecutive credit downgrades during the best economic bull market in American history," Mendoza, a Democrat, said during a forum with the Daily Herald's editorial board last week. "I walked into the worst fiscal crisis in the state's history, but on my watch Illinois has moved forward in a way like we've never seen before."
In recent years, the state has received six credit upgrades.
Mendoza touted her office's chiseling away at a $16.7 billion bill backlog created by a two-year budget stalemate between former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislators as proof that she has earned voters' confidence.
But Republican Teresi, the McHenry County auditor and a resident of Crystal Lake, said she would bring an accounting degree to the role and would be a check and balance on the Democratic-held legislature.
Teresi labeled Mendoza a holdover from the regime of former longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, who resigned in 2021 and was later indicted as part of a bribery scandal involving ComEd and former staffers.
"Illinois is the most corrupt, fiscally mismanaged, highest-taxed state in the nation; it's heartbreaking to see what's happening with our state's finances," she said. "I have seen what the Madigan machine has done to this state, and Illinoisans need to take the state back."
However, Mendoza, a Chicago resident, said she has proved her independence from party politics and runs her office independent of influence from the legislature or governor's office.
"Illinois needs real experience not just doing the simple arithmetic, but more importantly someone who knows how to manage an office," she said. "You ask what it takes to be a good comptroller -- it's experience knowing how to manage all government systems, not just the comptroller's office."
Teresi argued Mendoza has put party ahead of taxpayers as comptroller.
"That role is not only the chief accountant, but the largest microphone for fiscal accountability and should be working with the General Assembly on promoting Illinois as more business-friendly," Teresi said. "I will work with the General Assembly and enforce the rules and laws that are put in place and pay bills based on what is needed for the taxpayer, not just playing politics."
Teresi said she would seek to merge several aspects of the comptroller's and treasurer's offices to eliminate redundancies, then would push for a full consolidation of both offices through a constitutional amendment.
"We don't need to wait for a constitutional amendment to combine those two offices; there's a lot we can do together in the short term," Teresi said. "We need to seek out every savings."
Mendoza scoffed at the idea, noting the offices were separated more than 50 years ago because of a massive embezzlement scandal.
"It's a big mistake (to merge the offices), and we need to learn from our mistake," she said. "The credit rating agencies have already articulated that if this happened, a consolidation of these two offices specifically, it would remove strong internal controls and be a credit negative to the state of Illinois."
Mendoza said it would cost Illinois millions of dollars in additional interest payments if the state's credit rating dropped again.
Voters will decide Nov. 8. Early voting already has begun in some counties.