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November 8, 2016 — Illinois General Election
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November 8, 2016 —Illinois General Election

State of Illinois — ” Leslie Geissler Munger, Candidate for ComptrollerUnexpired 2-year term

Photo of Leslie Geissler Munger

Leslie Geissler Munger

Republican
Businessperson
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My Top 3 Priorities

  • To serve as an independent voice and taxpayer advocate for fiscal responsibility and a balanced budget in Springfield.
  • To bring relief to human services and small businesses suffering undue hardship due to severe state payment delays.
  • Lead state government to a new level of transparency to ensure that financial information is not only available, but accessible, to taxpayers.

Experience

Experience

Profession:Businessperson
Assistant brand manager, Procter and Gamble (1982–current)
Comptroller, State of Illinois — Appointed position (2015–current)
Category director, Helene Curtis/Unilever (1984–2001)
Manager of recruiting, McKinsey & Company (1978–1982)

Education

Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University M.B.A. (1982)
University of Illinois B.S. (1978)

Questions & Answers

Questions from Chicago Sun-Times (8)

The Illinois comptroller should not only manage the state's checkbook, but speak out for responsible fiscal decisions. What will you be telling Illinois leaders about the state’s financial situation?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

I think the best indicator of what I will do in the future is what I have done during my past 19 months in office.  My predecessor, Judy Baar Topinka, used to say, as Comptroller, you don’t have a vote in the General Assembly but you do have “one heck of a megaphone.”   I have used that megaphone continually throughout my 19 months in office to speak out to Illinois leaders on both sides of the aisle about the importance of getting our fiscal house in order, ending the budget gimmicks and political gridlock, and passing a balanced budget.  

I have highlighted the consequences that the state’s dismal fiscal condition and running our state without a budget has had on our residents, businesses and importantly, the non-profit social service organizations that serve those most in need.  I have used my “kitchen table” example to bring the state’s financial situation down to a family household level by taking six zeros off all the numbers – e.g., bill backlog, daily cash available, unfunded pension liability – to help all understand the severity of the problems we face. 

I continue to drive home that point every month by requiring Constitutional Officers – myself included – and the 177 members of the General Assembly to wait in line for payment with every other state vendor.  We are all receiving our paychecks on a several month delay.    I strongly believe those of us who are elected to office are public servants, and should not be prioritized over anyone else the state owes.   We all need to be in this together – and I can assure you that our leaders in Springfield have heard that message.  I recently introduced another initiative, “No Budget, No Pay”, that would require our leaders – the Governor and the General Assembly – to pass a balanced budget as defined by the Constitution by the end of May or paychecks stop until they get the job is done. 

Going forward, I will continue to speak out to Illinois leaders to implement better fiscal practices and to work together to pass a balanced budget.  I will continue to provide whatever state spending data and payment information in necessary to help move the process forward.

 

Finally, I recently introduced suggested reforms to the state’s budgeting process and financial management that I will advance in the coming months. These reforms include: (1) creating a two-year budget plan to allow for planning beyond the current fiscal year and longer-term consideration of the spending decisions, (2) implementing an “overspending alert” system that notifies the public when a state agency is spending dollars at a quicker rate than its budget can sustain, and (3) restoring the state’s “rainy day fund,” when we are are better funded so we ensure we do not end up in this situation again.

Illinois faces huge challenges in funding its pension systems. The comptroller serves on the state investment board and chairs the state employee retirement system board. If the governor and Legislature don’t provide full funding for pensions, what is the comptroller obligated to do about that?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

The Comptroller has an obligation to serve as a loud and unwavering advocate for fully funding the state’s pension systems.  Our unfunded liability today stands at $115 billion because for decades the General Assembly and our Governors underfunded the systems and voted for pension holidays and borrowing, essentially making promises to state employees to provide retirement benefits without providing the resources necessary to keep its word.  Surprisingly, as recently as FY2005 unfunded pension liabilities totaled just over $30 Billion.  However, by FY2010 the unfunded liabilities had more than doubled to over $75 Billion as a result of the pension holidays taken in 2005 and 2006 and it has grown ever since.  

My opponent spent 10 years in the General Assembly and voted for the very pension holidays that caused this spiking of unfunded liabilities.   She also voted for legislation that underfunded CPS pensions by $1 billion in 2010 and with Governor Blagojevich to borrow $10 Billion against the pension funds in 2003.   She now says the systems must be fully-funded but her record speaks much louder than her words.

 

Taxpayers will continue to pay the price for those short-sighted, politically-motivated decisions for years to come and it is essential we do not repeat those mistakes.

A lesson Illinois should have learned by now is to not skip pension payments. Yet in the fall of 2015, a pension payment was again delayed. Does the comptroller have a fiduciary duty to speak out against that?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

It is critical that Illinois learns from history and does not repeat the mistakes of the past. The law requires we make the full pension payment owed within the fiscal year.  We have had a practice of making it every month, but for perspective, Comptroller Dan Hynes would make the entire annual pension payment at one time at the end of the fiscal year, meeting the state’s obligation without adding to its liability.  The fact is that the November, 2015, pension payment had to be delayed because we did not have the cash available to make all the state’s court-ordered or statutorily-mandated payments (service on debt, K-12 education, state employee payroll, payments to social services) and make the pension payment.  This was a direct result of the cash shortages caused by an unprecedented budget impasse.  The decision allowed the state to make payments required by the Courts without impacting our unfunded pension liability.  We made the contribution up by April 2016, as promised, and all retirees received their checks on time.

 

The state ended the 2016 fiscal year having made its pension contributions in full and is current on its monthly contributions in FY2017.

When the state is operating without a budget, what role should the comptroller play in minimizing the negative aspects of having no budget and bringing the state toward a resolution?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

Without a budget, there are certain payments that cannot legally be made. During the year- long budget impasse, I made it my priority to highlight social service organizations, small business, schools and others that were suffering because there was simply no legal mechanism for them to be paid. That meant traveling to domestic violence shelters, speaking out about services for the developmentally disabled and talking with constituents and media at every turn in an attempt to build public pressure on all parties in Springfield to pass a balanced budget.

At the same time, I worked closely with state vendors and other state agencies to explore legal options to ensure critical payments were made even in the absence of a budget. Through those efforts, we identified existing consent decree language that allowed us to make payments to Early Intervention providers who had not been paid in 6 months. 

We worked with for the Department of Children and Family Services and AFSME to help state workers get reimbursements for their travel vouchers so they could continue to do their jobs.  We worked with legislators to identify the sources of revenue that allowed us to fund higher education.  We then expedited those funds to those schools, e.g., Chicago State,  that were most in need.  We worked with Mayor Emmanuel and CPS to ensure they had the funding necessary throughout the summer and into August so Chicago schools could open on time.  We helped organizations who serve our elderly and those with severe developmental disabilities keep their doors open.   And, as mentioned in question 3, I delayed the November 2015 pension contribution so that I could make all other payments ordered in the state.  Since retiree checks went out on schedule and the payment could be made up within the fiscal year, there was minimal, if any, negative impact. 

 

All these actions were taken so that we could continue to provide funds to as many organizations as we were legally able to pay, to keep state services running.  Throughout all this, I continued to be a vocal advocate for all to work together to pass a balanced budget. 

Should the comptroller mechanically pay bills in the order they come in, or does the comptroller have a responsibility to prioritize who gets paid first? If the comptroller decides who gets paid first, is there a risk of politics influencing those decisions? What controls would you put in place to prevent that? If you agree payments should be prioritized, to whom would you give priority?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

In general, it benefits the state to pay bills on a “first-in, first out” basis, because the state pays 1% per month interest on bills in house for more than 90 days.   However, given the severe cash shortages and the length of state payment delays, the Comptroller has a moral obligation to do everything possible to bring relief to human service providers, small businesses, hospitals, schools and others to help them continue to provide the services the state contracted with them to provide. As a rule of thumb: those suffering the greatest hardship, and our most vulnerable, should always take precedence.  I have made it my policy to ensure that social services and small businesses are prioritized if they are on the verge of slashing services or closing their doors because of state payment delays.

In addition, there are certain payments that I am legally required to make on a specific timeline, including the state’s debt service and employee payroll. In the absence of a budget in FY16, I was also bound by a number of Court Orders (which are still in effect) requiring Medicaid and certain social services be paid at a regular interval or on a specific pay date.

Transparency is key to ensuring accountability in paying the state’s bills, which is why I revamped our Ledger transparency website to make payment information more accessible for taxpayers. I also introduced a “google-like” feature on our Open Book page so that anyone can quickly compare campaign contributions with state contracts.  This allows anyone to easily track a state payment to a political contribution – the very fact that this information is so accessible should help ensure payments are not politically motivated.  Both of those sites, and financial audits for local units of government, can all be easily found at illinoiscomptroller.gov.

I am working to make state payments even more transparent.  Currently, the state operates a decades-old, COBOL-based accounting system that hinders the public’s ability to take a comprehensive approach to examining state records.  That is why I have led efforts to consolidate our 260+ different accounting systems into one, new state-of the art cloud-based system, putting our state’s accounting systems on par with the private sector and make Illinois a national leader in transparency.  We are one year into the pilot.  

Does the comptroller have a responsibility to act as a tool for economic development by expediting payments to small businesses in distressed communities?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

The Comptroller has a responsibility to expedite payments to small businesses that are on the brink due to state payment delays. With $8 billion in unpaid bills, our office performs triage every day. I have directed my staff to prioritize payments for those suffering the most hardship due to the state’s fiscal crisis – and human services and small businesses are consistently at the top of that list. Clearly, the plight of small businesses in distressed communities can be even more challenging, creating an even greater sense of urgency. 

Should the Illinois offices of treasurer and comptroller be merged? Will you publicly advocate for a constitutional amendment to merge the offices?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

I strongly support merging the offices of Treasurer and Comptroller. Consolidation of the state’s two fiscal offices would save taxpayers an estimated $12 million annually without any impact on our constituents. Unfortunately, the legislation has stalled in the General Assembly, where Speaker Madigan, who my opponent calls her “mentor,” has blocked its progress time and again. I will continue to back the legislation and work with lawmakers to build support.

The comptroller is responsible for auditing local governments. What role should the comptroller play in ensuring Illinois’ local government structure is efficient?
Answer from Leslie Geissler Munger:

The Comptroller’s Office collects more than 9,200 financial reports from municipalities, counties and special taxing districts in every part of the state. As Comptroller, I have focused on stronger communication with local entities to ensure that deadlines are met, and greater scrutiny of all financial filings. Those efforts have resulted in a 99.6 percent audit compliance rate.

 

Upon taking office, I implemented a compliance process that ensured all municipalities received written and verbal warnings as the due dates approached for their financial filings. At the same time, I directed our Local Government Division to conduct independent audits of all chronically delinquent communities. And we implemented a policy requiring all governments with “adverse” audit opinions to resubmit their reports with a corrective action plan. As a result, all government audits today are either in compliance or been assigned outside auditors by the state – and there were only 22 “adverse” audits filed with the state last year, compared to more than 60 just three years ago.

 

All local filings, and a “comparison” feature allowing taxpayers to see how their government ranks against others, can be found at the local government “Warehouse,” at illinoiscomptroller.gov

 

 

We also have focused on educating local governments of best fiscal practices and partnered with the CPA Society to deliver a series of “Accountability in Action,” workshops for local leaders in every portion of the state. Taxpayers are best served when all units of government work together to deliver greater efficiency and accountability and I will look to build on the partnerships made move forward.

Videos (1)

— September 30, 2016 Chicago Sun-Times

Leslie Munger tells why she should remain the Illinois State Comptroller.

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