Shaw Media sent questionnaires to statewide and Congressional candidates throughout the area ahead of the fall election.
Those questionnaires from each candidate who responded, as well as video of candidate interviews with our Editorial Board, are featured on our Election Central website to help readers make informed decisions when they cast their votes.
Name: Claire Ball
Town of residence: Addison
Office sought: Illinois State Comptroller
1. What will be your top legislative priorities during your term, and why?
The Comptroller is not a legislative role, nor should it be. Finances, regardless of industry, should be objective and neutral to ensure unbiased financial reporting. That being said, as the CFO of the state, the Comptroller can and should advocate on all legislation that has a financial, or potentially financial, impact. All advocacies should be objective, with strong rationale behind each position. Good financial policy should be promoted and bad financial policy denounced, regardless of political affiliation. That is my top -legislative- priority.
My top non-legislative priorities surround Illinois’ accounting, which needs a major revamp. My top priorities will be to release the annual financial reports on time and establish quarterly budget-to-actual reports, in order to give the people real transparency on how their elected officials are doing. My second priority is on local finance; to be both a resource to local municipalities, as well as to provide oversight. I will analyze local municipality financial reports, which are a requirement to be sent to the Comptroller, in order to identify questionable spending or troubling financial trends. I will work with municipalities to ensure they are following governmental accounting standards, in order to be a resource for understanding the reporting requirements, and to sound the alarm on potential financial problems. My third priority will be to streamline the office and identify areas of the Comptroller’s budget that can be reduced or eliminated, and to work with the Treasurer to combine office functions and reduce spending even more.
2. Should the offices of treasurer and comptroller be combined in Illinois? Why or why not?
No they should not, as combining the roles would eliminate an important financial check that Illinois needs to maintain. Sound accounting practices stress the segregation of three main areas in order to keep the risks of fraud low. These three areas are authorization, recordkeeping, and custody of assets. The Treasurer has custody of the financial assets, while the Comptroller is responsible for payment authorization and financial recordkeeping. Illinois government is already a breeding ground for corruption and from an accounting standpoint this is an important financial safeguard that should not be eliminated over the myth of saving money. I have found no detail to back up the proposed $12 million in annual savings and I will not approve the removal of a sound internal control unless I can first verify the numbers. A better question I have for those who advocate combining the roles is if the savings is from the offices sharing services and space, why not combine functions now? The Treasurer and Comptroller could have combined segments of their operations already and shown what a real commitment to reducing budgets looks like.
Also, I don’t want to eliminate an elected position because that serves more to eliminate a voice of the people than it does to reduce waste. The position that remains will not do both jobs, as they are inherently different, and will probably hire administrative roles and delegate responsibilities down. How will that do more than eliminate one elected office and replace it with several appointed ones? That would result in an increase in administrative and payroll costs and a decrease in the people in deciding who they want in charge.
3. How would you assess the Legislature's and governor's approaches to addressing the state's fiscal crisis the past 4 years? What more should be done?
I would give them a solid F in addressing the state’s financial issues. Both the Legislature and the Governor have spent more time focusing on party politics and political favoritism than they have in actually fixing the issues we face in this state.
Legislators and the Governor should focus on decreasing budgetary spending and cost cutting measures to reduce and eliminate the unpaid bill backlog, as well as long-term fiscal reform of the pension system. One way to do this is to promote and work towards a constitutional amendment to clearly define the pension clause in our state constitution. Pension costs consume nearly a quarter of the annual budget, and those costs are only going to increase, reducing the funds available for operations. Pension reform is critical to build our credit rating back up and to insure we have the funds in the future to meet our pension obligations.
4. Should the comptroller have more discretion regarding which of the state's bills are paid and when, and will you seek it?
Other than constitutionally mandated and court-ordered payments, which must be paid, the Comptroller already has full discretion over which bills are paid and when. The problem is there is no transparency around this process and no understanding on why some vendors get paid over others. I plan to establish a table of priority that details the payment priority order when money is tight. This table of priority will show the types of vendors to be paid first, such as social service providers and veteran services, then small businesses, etc. with the rationale behind it. Any deviation from that table will be explained, which will provide a measure of accountability from the Comptroller’s office to the taxpayers.
5. What more can the comptroller's website do to make state and local finances transparent for the public?
Currently, the Comptroller’s payment website provides limited information on payments: who is being paid, how much, and when they were paid. That is not enough detail to understand what our state is doing.
The Comptroller’s website can and should provide an audit trail of the approval process of every bill, from the time it was received and by whom, all the way to the final approval before the payment was processed. This log, with timestamps for each step of the process, would provide a picture of how long a bill took to be paid and where it was held up in process. The website can and also should have links from the check detail to PDF invoice backup, making it quick and easy to get a copy of a paid bill.
On the financial reporting side, there can and should be quarterly budget-to-actual reports on statewide and local finances, so you can see how well (or not well) an entity is maintaining their budget. Besides being transparent, this provides a measure of accountability as taxpayers can question their elected officials on budget-overruns before the year is over and done with.
6. Should marijuana be legalized for recreational use in Illinois? Why or why not?
Yes, it should be fully legalized for all purposes to stop the criminalization of ordinary people over a victimless crime, something that is no more harmful than alcohol. Besides the potential tax revenues, the main focus of many other state-wide candidates, there is the greater cost savings from the decrease of incarcerations; it costs taxpayers $30K annually to incarcerate one individual, and once released it is much more difficult for those individuals to regain full employment and contribute back to their families and society. As local municipalities tighten their budgets to make room for ever increasing pension costs, it would also decrease the strain on our police forces, allowing them to focus on real crimes.
Another area to consider is the job growth that can be organically created by encouraging production within the state; Illinois is rich in farmland that could be used for recreational and medical cannabis production as well as industrial hemp products – which legislation was recently passed in Illinois allowing this. We have a net migration of residents and as the financial burden becomes greater, that is only going to increase. Opening up the state to a growing industry would attract residents as well as businesses, both of which are sorely needed in Illinois.
7. Should the comptroller's website include listings of contractors who haven't yet been paid by the state, and how much they are owed?
Yes, the Comptroller’s website should have adequate detail on all vendors and contractors available to the public at all times. As Comptroller, I will enhance the various portals (the Ledger, the Warehouse, etc.) to include audit trails common to the private sector such as approval trails, links to invoices and contracts, and financial analysis of long-term projects. Contracting with the state means full transparency from beginning to end to the people footing the bills – the taxpayers.
8. The comptroller's office is responsible for oversight of the state's cemeteries and crematories. How will you approach this duty of the office?
The same way I approach all duties of the office – understanding the responsibilities, the overall purpose and function, and then analysis of how well the duties have been performed in the past. I will meet with those who oversee individual cemeteries and crematories to understand the needs of each, and work to ensure the Comptroller’s office provides the right balance of resources and oversight.
9. Should Illinois' tax structure be changed to bring in more revenue?
Should taxpayers be asked to pay more? No, we pay enough already. New tax plans that increase revenues will not address our unpaid bill backlog or unfunded pension liabilities, both of which have been fueled by years of unbalanced budgets and responsibility-dodging financial decisions.
Illinois enacted a temporary income tax hike from 2011 to 2014, which brought in $30 billion dollars in additional revenues. During that same time, the unpaid bill backlog decreased by $1.3 billion dollars and the unfunded pension liability increased by $25 billion. You don’t have to be an accountant to see that revenues are not the problem in this equation.
Our elected officials need to rein in spending, reduce their budgetary needs, and then stick to a budget that is actually balanced, rather than balanced with “structural deficits”. A budget that contains overly generous revenue assumptions, money brought in by the sale of a building that doesn’t sell (for the 3rd year in a row), and includes savings without the related costs (I.E. the FY19 bond issuance for pension-related buyouts) is not a balanced budget.