By Arianna Hermosillo
On December 5, 2016, Susana Mendoza was sworn in as Comptroller for the state of Illinois. The state was in crisis then with a historic budget impasse and a bill backlog in the billions.
For Mendoza it was a matter of finding a fiscal moral compass: “We had gone a full two years without a state budget. And that meant putting the most vulnerable people in the state of Illinois at the front of the line.”
Now Mendoza and her team face a crisis in the form of a global pandemic. Mendoza, however, is feeling ready saying, “[The past] in a kind of crazy way gave me the experience necessary to be able to manage any kind of a fiscal crisis and so we’re prepared moving forward to deal with whatever comes our way.”
The economic crisis that has resulted from COVID-19 has meant the loss of valuable revenue for Illinois. “This is not a self-inflicted wound. COVID-19 caused a huge likely $6 to 7 billion hole in our finances along with a whole bunch of other states in the country,” Mendoza says.
Because of this Mendoza says she has had to borrow from state agencies by accessing unused funds to plug holes elsewhere in the budget as well as from the state treasurer an interest rate of 3.5%.
Mendoza’s office also created a public page on its website so the public can see all pandemic spending in the state. It includes cumulative spending and COVID-relating spending details going back to March. Visit illinoiscomptroller.gov/covid19-information to learn more.
Mendoza says this is part of her office’s commitment to transparency for taxpayers. In 2016, Illinois had the lowest level of trust in state government. Mendoza is seeking to turn that around. “The more we can explain to people what our thought process is when it comes to the decisions that we make on people’s tax dollars…those are conversations we have to be honest with the public about,” Mendoza says.
In addition to transparency, diversity, equity and inclusion are also on Mendoza’s radar. “When it comes to state business I think our contracts should be representative of what our state population looks like. And they’re not consistent with that,” Mendoza says.
Her office runs a program called Smart Business Illinois that teaches business owners, especially small and minority-owned businesses, about the Illinois certification and procurement process. They have counselors available to walk businesses through each step and also to follow up if they need additional help.
“For so many years [inclusion] has been seen as an afterthought or a minimum quota… I think that we need to be intentional about seeking out what the challenges or the roadblocks are for minority entrepreneurs and help them become viable,” Mendoza says.
To learn more about Smart Business Illinois visit illinoiscomptroller.gov/about/constituent-services/smart-business-illinois/.