Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Officials Now Standing in Line for Pay, like Ordinary Victims of State Budget Mess

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Officials Now Standing in Line for Pay, like Ordinary Victims of State Budget Mess

Article excerpt

Leslie Geissler Munger is not a household name not even in Illinois, where she holds a statewide elective office. She's the comptroller, a word many Americans might never utter in a lifetime. It makes her chief fiscal officer, whose duties include financial analysis of the state's situation.

A truly candid assessment of that situation could not be published in a newspaper with tender readers. And I doubt that Munger would ever utter the requisite words.

(For the record, Munger was appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner to fill the vacancy after the death of Judy Baar Topinka, whom I knew and liked, and who gladly would have described the state's money problem in frank terms that might have made a sailor blush.)

Let's just refer to the 10 months without a state budget, the $6.2 billion revenue shortfall this year, the plummeting credit rating and the endless backlog of unpaid bills as The Illinois Mess.

The apparent dullness of the comptroller's duties may help explain why no one who held that office (or auditor of public accounts, the even less-sexy name applied to the post before 1973) ever became governor. Some did try: Bakalis and Howlett, to name a couple of Michaels, and Dawn Clark Netsch.

There's not much Munger can do about the The Illinois Mess. She counts and distributes the state's beans but neither raises them nor decides how they will be spent. Yet she can decide when they will be spent.

So a few days ago, Munger did something that might put her on track toward governor yet. She delighted a lot of taxpayers by shoving state government's elected officials into the long, long queue of creditors waiting to be paid.

It means that Rauner, the Republican who appointed her and who owns a big part of The Illinois Mess, and Michael Madigan, who as House speaker is the state's most powerful Democrat and Mess co- owner, will have to wait a while for their paychecks.

"Our social service network is being dismantled, mass layoffs are occurring and small businesses across Illinois are awaiting payments for services they've already provided," Munger lamented in a prepared statement. "As our cash crunch grows in the coming months, it is only appropriate that the unfair prioritization of payments to elected leaders ends. …

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