What does the Office of the Illinois Comptroller do?
First thing’s first. How should/do you pronounce comptroller: C-O-N-T roller or C-O-M-P-T roller?
According to the American Dialect Society, it should be pronounced as “controller”. The English spelling with C-O-M-P-T is rooted in a mistake. It was just spelled in its archaic spelling based on a misunderstanding of the word’s etymology.
With that said, the word comptroller (pronounced C-O-N-T roller) is a synonym for “financial controller”.
WHAT IS A COMPTROLLER?
In general, the Office of the Illinois Comptroller pays the State’s bills and monitors State funds.
By law, the Illinois Comptroller is the state’s Chief Fiscal Control Officer, responsible for the legal, efficient, and effective operations of state government. The Comptroller’s duties are described in Section 17 of Article V of the Illinois Constitution.
The Comptroller, in accordance with law, shall maintain the State’s central fiscal accounts, and order payments into and out of the funds held by the Treasurer.
In Susana’s words…
The Comptroller is the Chief Fiscal and Accountability Officer for the State of Illinois. The Office is responsible for managing the State’s financial accounts as well as providing the public and the State’s elected leadership with objective and timely data concerning the State’s difficult fiscal condition.
The predecessor to the Office of Illinois Comptroller was the Auditor of Public Accounts who handled both State’s money (Treasurer) and ordered payments to be made with that money (Comptroller). Between 1952 and 1956, Orville Hodge embezzled $6.15 million of State funds, mainly by altering and forging checks that were paid on the State’s account.
That scandal played a key role in the creation of the Office of the Illinois Comptroller during the Constitutional Convention of 1970 and established an expanded replacement for the former Office of the Auditor of Public Accounts.
Since 1970, the Comptroller has been a four-year term elected officer in the Executive Branch of state government. During the same election cycle, Illinois citizens vote for six statewide elected officials:
- Lieutenant Governor
- Attorney General
- Secretary of State
THE DUTIES OF THE OFFICE OF THE ILLINOIS COMPTROLLER
The following are the main public-facing duties of the Office:
- Maintain the central fiscal accounts of the State.
- Provide monthly debt transparency reports to the General Assembly.
- Provide the annual financial report summarizing the revenues, expenditures, fund balance and debt of units of local government throughout the State.
- Order payments into and out of the funds held by the Treasurer of Illinois. In accordance with this duty, the Comptroller signs paychecks or grants approval to electronic payments made by the State to its employees and creditors such as social service providers, among many others — i.e. pays the State’s bills.
- Evaluate the amount of cash the State has on hand, on a daily basis, and determine which payments may be made and in what order they should be prioritized — i.e. monitor State’s fund.
- Regulate cemeteries under the Cemetery Care Act and ensure that consumer dollars collected by cemeteries, crematories, and funeral homes are placed in trust so they are available when needed.
- Hold local governments accountable in fulfilling their mandated fiscal responsibilities to taxpayers.
- Root out waste and fraud inside local governments.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE COMPTROLLER AND TREASURER?
One question that frequently comes up while on the campaign trail is, “What is the difference between the Comptroller and Treasurer?”.
It’s true — at first glance — the two offices may sound similar: both the Comptroller and the Treasurer act as fiscal managers for the State, and both are responsible for State payouts.
However, the role of these two State offices does differ in very significant ways. The most important difference between the Comptroller and the Treasurer is established by 15 ILCS 405/9: “No payment may be made from public funds held by the state treasurer in or outside of the state treasury, except by warrant drawn by the comptroller and presented by him to the treasurer to be countersigned.”
Essentially, while the Treasurer holds onto the State’s money, only the Comptroller can order payments to be made with that money. That significant detail provides an important check and balance that protects taxpayer dollars from embezzlement (think Orville Hodge).
Below is a side-by-side comparison of duties for the Offices of the Comptroller and Treasurer.
- a.k.a. Chief Fiscal and Accountability Officer.
- Orders payments into and out of the State’s funds and manages the State’s internal payments — i.e. pays the State’s bills.
- Evaluates the State’s fiscal accounts to prioritize appropriations set by the General Assembly — i.e. monitors State funds.
- Signs paychecks and authorizes payments to social service providers, State agencies, and others.
- Ensures transparency in accounting for the State and local units of government — Debt Transparency Act and annual reporting.
- Regulates and provides annual reporting regarding cemeteries under the Cemetery Care Act.
- a.k.a. Chief Investment Officer.
- Maintains and holds onto the State’s funds, i.e. invests the funds for the State.
- Evaluates the State’s fiscal accounts to invest approximately $28 billion on behalf of the State and local units of government.
- Tracks unclaimed property for residents and local units of government in the State with the iCash program and website.
- Administers the Secure Choice Program, preparing employees for retirement.