Comptroller Candidates Talk About How to Deal With Illinois’ Pension Debt

Comptroller Candidates Talk About How to Deal With Illinois’ Pension Debt

ILLINOIS (IRN) — The three candidates for Illinois comptroller say they’re committed to getting elected, but there are stark differences in what they plan to do thereafter.

Voters will have three choices on the ballot for the Office of Illinois Comptroller this November: Incumbent Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat; Republican candidate Darlene Senger and Libertarian candidate Claire Ball.

Mendoza wouldn’t commit to serving out the entirety of the term during a Chicago Tribune Editorial Board debate Wednesday. But she said while people are trying to draft her to run for Chicago mayor, she’s focused on the comptroller race.

“I’m very focused on that election and it’s nice that people think that, but one race at a time and the race that I’m running for right now is comptroller,” Mendoza said.

Mendoza’s name has been floated as a possible Chicago mayoral candidate after Mayor Rahm Emanuel decided to not run for a third term.

Mendoza then said Senger is disingenuous for saying she’d serve all four years if elected comptroller, unless the office is merged with the state Treasurer, as Senger advocates.

Ball said as the only certified public accountant running, she only wants to be comptroller.

“That’s what we need in the office of comptroller,” Ball said. “We need someone who is financially focused rather than politically focused and will do that job and no other.”

Mendoza has been criticized for being too politically charged against Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and not doing enough to call out Democrats at the statehouse who support bad financial policies.

The candidates were also asked about addressing Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation $130 billion pension debt. Credit ratings agencies have put that unfunded liability at more than $200 billion. The debt is a chief reason for the state’s near-junk credit rating. The low credit rating makes it more expensive for Illinois to borrow money, which in turn drives up costs for taxpayers.

Asked if voters should get a say in amending the state constitution to rework pension debt, both Senger and Ball said they should.

Senger took Mendoza to task for opposing changing the constitution to reform pensions but being open to changing the constitution to replace the flat income tax with a progressive income tax. Mendoza also wants to get revenue for pensions by legalizing marijuana.

“There’s potentially gaming opportunities, gambling expansion in Illinois,” Mendoza said. “I think potentially getting there is probably easier than getting a constitutional change. I’m just being realistic. ”

“That’s not enough money,” Senger said. “You’d have to have so much pot smoked in the state to get it.”

The comptroller’s office is responsible for cutting checks to pay for pensions, and will also be responsible for diverting state money from local governments to local pensions if required pension payments aren’t made.

The election is Nov. 6.