Illinois taxpayers still don’t know how the state spent their money in a budget that ended more than a year ago, which a public finance watchdog called a major disservice.
Illinois’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, for the fiscal year that ended last July still hasn’t been published. Illinois is reportedly the last state in the nation to publish its report for that fiscal year. The tardy report is even later the fiscal year 2008 report, which the Illinois comptroller’s office published July 10, 2009.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker echoed comments from the comptroller’s office on the delay.
“As the comptroller has said, and as the auditor has said, there was a challenge in the last administration that has caused a delay,” Pritzker said.
He said he expected the report in weeks, not months.
“The lateness this year does not fall on the Comptroller’s Office, the Auditor General or the current leadership of the state agencies,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office said in a statement last month, which the office reiterated Thursday. “It appears there are issues from this audit period dating from the previous administration's management. The current administration and leadership of those agencies are working to resolve them and account for them in their reports to the Auditor General.”
Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino’s office said in a statement Thursday “we do not comment on audits that are in progress nor do we speculate on audit release dates.”
Truth In Accounting Research Director Bill Bergman said excuses don’t excuse that the report is still late.
“And the fact that it is this late is a bad sign for governance and accountability in Illinois,” Bergman said.
Bergman said the CAFR is used by bond rating agencies to determine the credit quality of the government, and by bondholders to determine the value of their investments. But he said the reports also are meant to give taxpayers information to determine if government officials and politicians are living up to their promises.
“Bondholders come first, compared to taxpayer and citizen,” Bergman said. “They are senior claims on the enterprise and at the end of the day you and I as citizens and taxpayers, we get what’s leftover.”
One example Bergman said bondholders take precedence over taxpayers is when the state goes out for pension obligation bonds.
“One way to help your pension problem is to borrow money and to put the money in your pension,” Bergman said. “Does that help the state? Not if the state takes on more debt to do that. And so bondholders care about the enterprise, but they don’t care as much as we should or do as citizens or taxpayers.”
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget said bonds for the “Rebuild Illinois” capital construction program will be issued over six to eight years, “depending on the cash flow needs of the construction projects.”
“There are sufficient funds available now for early costs of the Rebuild Illinois program,” the office said in a statement. “We would expect to issue capital bonds this year, but will work with the construction agencies [Illinois Department of Transportation and Capital Development Board] on the timing of the need.”
The budget that began July 1 authorizes $1.2 billion in general obligation bonds to address bills that are more than 90 days old and accruing interest, but the size and timing of the issuance will depend on the cash flow needs at the comptroller’s office, the office said.
Regardless, Bergman said taxpayers need the CAFR to hold elected officials accountable.
“How can you plan for the future when you don’t have [the latest] information,” Bergman said. “In your households how can we ever plan for the future if we don't have information about our bank accounts today and the same is true for Illinois representatives and senators and governors. Truthful accounting includes timely reporting and we don’t have it in Illinois."