Topinka Throws Open the Doors of Transparency

The state of Illinois has failed to fulfill 205,298 vouchers for services and owes $5,903,334,447.05  to a variety of vendors as of today.

As of March 2012, the three major bond rating agencies listed Illinois with following rating:

Moody's: A2 (6 ratings below AAA)

Fitch: A (6 ratings below AAA)

S&P: A+ (5 ratings below AAA)

Those ratings are among the worst of all the 50 states in this country.

We know all of these facts and figures because the Illinois Comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka, has released all those figures publicly on a new, easy to use website simply called the "The Ledger."

Each and every day, you can look up how the state and all its individual funds are doing. We can look up any state employee's salary and even find out what the cash balance of any given fund is on any given day.

This level of transparency has never been seen in Illinois, a state in which the financial truth is always hidden from the public to the advantage of officials seeking re-election.

That is the true beauty of have Judy Baar Topinka as our state comptroller. She is at the end of her political career, thus not concerned with popularity. She will not be running for governor or senator, thus she can be frank and honest.

The Ledger paints a clear picture for us. The state does not pay its bills on time, has taken few serious steps to repay its vendors in a timely manner, has a dismal credit rating that costs taxpayers quite a bit in interest despite historically low interest rates and almost exclusively doles out major state contracts to companies who donate to elected officials.

Perhaps the best feature of the site is your ability to search the state contract database to see how the list of awarded state contracts matches up to the cooresponding names on the political contribution list. It is not perfect, because many state contracts are awarded to companies whose names have nothing at all to do with the people who run them. Thus, you may not always be able to exactly match up who got a state contract with how much money they give to state leaders because they use their personal name for the political check and the business name for the state contract.

You may remember the 2010 governor's race in which little known, but very persistent businessman Adam Andrzejewski ran on the catch phrase: "Every Dime. Online. In Real Time." The Ledger is about as close to that vision as anything Illinois could imagine. In fact, I think it would only be fair to put Adam in charge of the staff that oversees the site's content so that every imaginable improvement can be made.

I am not suggesting that Topinka and her staff would not have posted all of this information without Adam's 2010 campaign push, but he sure helped create the logical groundwork for it.

Like anything else, this Ledger site is only a tool for citizens and media. It is not a solution in and of itself.

It helps create more transparency, opens up the state contract and employment information and makes it easy to file Freedom of Information Requests. These are all positive steps toward repairing the dismal relationship of mistrust that currently exists between the governed and those who govern them in Illinois.

But it is only a tool. We, citizens, must use this informational tool to hold our leaders accountable. Like a knife or a stove, this site is a tool. We have to be like a chef in their kitchen, always learning how to better utilize the tools at our disposal. The chef wants to create a tasty dish, while we are out to create a more prosperous state.

Let's use this tool wisely and spread the word to concerned citizens about its existence.

Filed under: State Government

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Topinka's on track. Not surprised. I remember that famous dittty, "The Atchison, Topinka, and the Santa Fe".

  • She may have it online, but it means nothing to Quinn (who has let the backlog continue throughout his administration, and at least thought he could borrow his way out of it) or even Tom Cross, who has made statements such as "if we attack the backlog $1 billion a year, we'll take care of it in 8 years."

    As far as people showing guts on their way out of office, a whole lot of legislators "did so" by voting for the tax increase in the lame duck session, which was represented as to take care of the backlog (apparently to back Quinn's desired borrowing), but did not.

    Topinka said on the radio that state agencies were holding back invoices so that they could avoid Prompt Payment Act interest penalties, so the $5.9 billion may be the top of the iceberg (as indicated by the Cross quote).

    Article VIII sec. 2 of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 says that the governor shall submit a budget in which "Proposed expenditures shall not exceed funds estimated to be available for the fiscal year as shown in the
    budget." and that "Appropriations for a fiscal year shall not exceed
    funds estimated by the General Assembly to be available during that year." Apparently, though, if the state misses one year, the Governor and General Assembly can ignore it going forward.

    So, good for Judy that she has it on the Internet, but with the attitude in Springfield between the Governor and BOTH PARTIES in the General Assembly, good luck in that having any real effect.

Leave a comment