Comptroller Candidates Divided Over Whether Office As-Is Should Continue To Exist

Aug 29, 2016

The candidates vying to be Illinois comptroller are at odds over whether the office should even continue to exist.

Estimates say cash-strapped Illinois would have an extra $12 million in the bank if the state’s two fiscal offices merged.

“Most businesses, most companies today, have a CFO not two individual offices," said Republican Leslie Munger, who as Illinois’ comptroller, pays the state’s bills.

Or she’s supposed to, anyway.

Given that Illinois doesn’t have enough money to pay all of its bills, the role’s gained prominence lately: The comptroller has to decide who gets paid, and when.

Munger’s chief challenger, Chicago City Clerk Susana Mendoza, leans toward keeping both the comptroller and treasurer's offices, as a guard against things like embezzlement.

“The office of comptroller was created to provide a checks and balance to the office of the treasurer given the financial malfeasance that had happened back in the '50s. And so there is a purpose for the office. Unless anyone in this room believes that IL is no longer subject to corruption in office," she said recently, during a joint appearance with all four comptroller candidates at the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

The comptroller writes the checks; the treasurer invests the state’s money.

Libertarian Claire Bell, who is an accountant, best practices call for keeping the functions of authorizing state payments separate from the record keeping.

"Another reason that I wouldn’t want to combine these roles is that I don’t want to eliminate a vote for the people. The people deserve to elect as many of their state government employees as possible," Bell said.

Tim Curtin, who is the nominee for the Green Party, favors combining them. He’s also calling for increased disclosure of state spending.

Combining the offices would require the legislature to pass a measure putting the question before voters; while plans have advanced, they've stalled in the House before reaching that point. A merger would require amending the constitution.

The 2016, special election for comptroller is for a two-year term.