Editorial: Legislature should override Debt Transparency Act veto

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Editorial: Legislature should override Debt Transparency Act veto

Herald-Whig | Editorial Board —

View the article.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza has the unenviable task of determining which bills the state can pay. Going more than two years without a budget, when spending continued to outpace revenue, escalated a backlog of unpaid bills that last week reached $14.7 billion.

Of course, that’s only an estimate because of an antiquated system that requires state agencies to report only each Oct. 1 the aggregate amount of bills they held June 30. By the time the comptroller’s office receives the invoices, the debt total is usually outdated and often much higher.

Moreover, the state’s Prompt Payment Act assigns a 1 percent per month penalty to bills that are 90 days past due. Some, including claims from health care providers, accrue interest at 9 percent annually after 30 days.

Therefore, based on the known backlog of unpaid bills, cash-strapped Illinois is reportedly on track to pay about $800 million in late-payment interest fees this fiscal year. However, those interest payments are only an estimate because there is no clear accounting for the state’s liabilities.

That level of uncertainty was illustrated earlier this year when the known backlog jumped by $1 billion in a single week when bills for state health insurance, medical services, corrections, human services and more were reported by the Office of Management and Budget.

To improve the reporting of what the state owes to better manage its checkbook, Mendoza championed the Debt Transparency Act. The legislation would require state agencies to provide her office with monthly reports on the amount of bills being held, the liabilities for which there are appropriations, and liabilities subject to late-payment penalties.

The bill received bipartisan support in both houses in being approved last spring and was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature. It seemed to be the kind of common-sense legislation that would appeal to Rauner, who has repeatedly vowed to apply sound private-sector business practices to improve the efficiency of state government.

Instead, the governor vetoed the bill Friday.

“The inclination to provide more transparency about the state of our finances is a good one,” Rauner wrote in his veto message. “Unfortunately, this legislation more closely resembles an attempt by the comptroller to micromanage executive agencies than an attempt to get the information most helpful to the monitoring of state government.”

He went on to explain that “lagging technology” and “variances in the input and calculation of the required information” would make filling the requirements of the legislation “highly burdensome for agencies.”

Clearly, accountability and good governance should transcend politics, but this is, after all, Illinois. Outwardly, Rauner’s veto decision appears to be based more on political tit-for-tat than reasonable policy differences.

Rauner, a Republican, and Mendoza, a Democrat, have been feuding since she took office in December after defeating Leslie Munger in a special election. The governor handpicked Munger for the job after the death of Judy Baar Topinka.

Caught in the crosshairs of this ongoing political squabble is bipartisan legislation that would provide a common-sense approach to tracking liabilities and cash flow to improve the efficiency of Illinois government.

It bears repeating: Elected officials need reliable financial information to make budget decisions, vendors and service providers deserve to know how long the line is for those awaiting payment, and taxpayers deserve to know the magnitude of the state’s debt.

The Debt Transparency Act clearly is a step toward achieving those goals. We urge lawmakers to override the governor’s veto and make it law.

View the article: Editorial Board. (2017, Aug 22). Legislature should override Debt Transparency Act veto. Herald-Whig. Retrieved from www.whig.com.

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