Why the Debt Transparency Act Matters

The Illinois House stood up to Governor Rauner last week; my experience in state government has taught me how important that is—and how and where to do it.

Last Thursday, the Illinois House voted unanimously to overturn the governor’s veto of the Debt Transparency Act; we’re waiting for the state Senate to do the same. I’d like to take this opportunity to dive into what’s at stake here, what it says about how state government works, and how important the upcoming election for the 25th district is.

We usually think of the legislature as responsible for making laws, and the role of the executive branch (state agencies under the direction of the Governor) as responsible of ensuring that the laws are followed. When things do not work in state agencies for the people, the legislature need to step up to pass laws to fix the situation. The Debt Transparency Act does just that.

The State of Illinois is in pretty serious financial straits. In the two years we went without a budget, we’ve accumulated about $16 billion in unpaid bills. This figure may actually be under-estimated because state agencies only have to tell the state comptroller’s office how much they owe to vendors companies, nonprofit agencies, and consultants.

For most the past decade, I have worked at nonprofit agencies that depend on state funding to provide care for elders in their homes, child care services for low-income families, and employment counseling and training to adults who are seeking employment. Over the past three years, many of these human service agencies have been forced to reduce program hours, lay off staff, or in the worst case scenario, shut down altogether because of severe delays in payments from state government for services already rendered. Non-profit agencies are in the same boat as large consulting companies when it comes to debt owed to them from the State of Illinois. But unlike the Deloittes and McKinseys, few community-based organizations can afford to float the State of Illinois loans month after month. And no social service worker I know can survive for months without getting paid by their employer.

The Debt Transparency Act will require that state agencies keep better track of who they owe money to, and for what, and that they share that information—not once a year, but once a month—with the State Comptroller sends a check to the payee after verification.This will help the many organizations to whom the $16 billion is owed to receive their payments faster.

I’m proud to be running as a Democrat, and as a legislator you can bet that I will be standing up and fighting for public services, and for a progressive income tax so that we as a state can fund these services. I’m also proud to fight for spending our tax revenue responsibly. With the combination of my state government and community-based nonprofit experiences, I’m keenly aware of how these organizations depend on state funding to provide needed services for the elderly, for children, and for job-seekers. I understand the need for more transparency not only from standpoint of good policy but I also know from first-hand experience that it will have an impact on ordinary people’s lives. I pledge to leverage my experience to bring legislative authority to solve problems where others might pass the buck to the executive.

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