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Our view: Another veto, another missed opportunity

Posted on 8/25/2017, 1:00 AM

We can understand why Gov. Bruce Rauner senses a whiff of political partisanship around a bill that would enable more of a real-time look at the state's debt picture. But his decision to veto is an unfortunate overreaction that misses two opportunities.

One is the chance to demonstrate some spirit of collaboration on a significant bill that, although not preponderantly bipartisan, at least attracted notable Republican support from legislators as diverse as the moderate state Rep. David Harris and the conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives.

The other missed opportunity was standing behind a process that would give Illinoisans up-to-date reports of the state's financial picture and help the person responsible for paying the estimated $15 billion backlog of past-due bills prioritize which to pay first.

House Bill 3649, known as the "Debt Transparency Act," was an initiative of Democratic Comptroller Susana Mendoza. It would require state agencies to report monthly -- instead of yearly -- what bills they are holding and estimate the amount of interest and penalties that will be paid. Presumably, that would give the comptroller a more realistic picture of who is waiting to be paid and if payments could be made to reduce interest and penalties.

Defending his veto, Rauner said the bill "more closely resembles an attempt by the comptroller to micromanage executive agencies than an attempt to get the information most helpful to the monitoring of state government."

But micromanaging payment of the state's bills, within the context of the law and court orders, is precisely the job of the comptroller. Regardless of party, that person needs to have a financial snapshot more frequently than once a year. What's more, lawmakers need a more definite picture of the state's financial status as they contemplate legislation.

The past-due balance of bills is an unqualified embarrassment for everyone in state government. It is reported to have produced $800 million, and counting, in penalties alone.

No action is going to get such a huge backlog under control immediately, but no opportunity to make the process more manageable should be overlooked.

Unfortunately, the veto leaves it to lawmakers to override the governor in yet another show of discord. We're disappointed but agree that lawmakers should take it on themselves to create a more reliable and up-to-date system of accounting for the state's bills.