Susana Mendoza Sworn-in as Illinois Comptroller, “Pray for me. This is Going to be Tough”

 

Susana Mendoza (D) becomes Illinois State Comptroller, taking the oath on the same bible used by her friend, the late Judy Baar Topinka.  Mendoza is a former state lawmaker, Chicago City Clerk.  She took the oath from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke

From the State Capitol, December 5, 2016 — Following her election in November, Susana Mendoza took the oath of office as Illinois State Comptroller.

State Comptroller Suzana Mendoza (D) delivers her inaugural address at the State Capitol
State Comptroller Susana Mendoza (D) delivers her inaugural address at the State Capitol

In her inaugural address, Mendoza made a point of saying that she would continue the practice of having lawmakers wait in line to get their pay, and NOT prioritize their salary over the bills owed to others in the state.   That practice was set by Comptroller Leslie Munger, who was defeated by Mendoza.  Recently, six state lawmakers filed suit against the Comptroller’s office, arguing that state lawmakers salaries are noted in the state constitution, and must be paid.  But the last time lawmakers got a paycheck, was in August, for the period that ended in June, 2016.

In her inaugural address, that lasted about 20 minutes, Mendoza noted her prior experience of working in the State Capitol as a House member, where she noted she worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats, and said that she would continue to work on “Shared Values” and work to devalue the worth of others.

At one point in her speech, Mendoza became choked up, and had to stop for a few seconds to compose herself.  As she wiped away a tear, she said, “Who knew I would become so emotional?”

Mendoza noted she comes into office when the state is facing its greatest fiscal challenge in its history, with nearly $10 Billion dollars in unpaid bills awaiting payment.  That amount is expected to grow to $13 BILLION in unpaid bills by the end of the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2017.

Illinois has been operating without a state budget for the last 18 months.  Its spending is directed by court orders, on such things as Medicaid, Medicare, and other payments the courts have ruled are mandated to be paid.  This includes making interest payments on bonds the state used to borrow money in the past.

As State Comptroller, Mendoza’s office is responsible for managing the state’s checkbook, and prioritizing payments to state vendors, and others, whose funds were authorized by the legislature, or the state constitution.

One area that remains an open question, is whether Mendoza will follow the practice of her predecessor, Leslie Munger, in making payroll payments to state workers.  That the state continues to pay state workers, is one reason the state has operated for 18 months without an approved budget.  But some have argued – including the State Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, that the state constitution prohibits the payment to state workers, unless a budget has been passed by the legislature.

Should Mendoza take the same position, and go to court to seek relief from a court order that state workers should be paid, then that would put her squarely in the middle of a fight between Gov Rauner and Speaker Madigan, whose power struggle has kept a budget from being approved.  It would also likely force the Governor and Speaker to come to some terms, and end the budget standoff.

But as she enters the office figuratively… she said she is also entering the office literally, as she said Comptroller Munger and staff did not work with her and her staff to make for a smooth transition.  Mendoza told reporters, that after her taking the oath, she was headed upstairs to the Comptrollers office to meet members of her staff for the first time.

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