Topinka website offers info on state finances

Doug Finke

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has established a one-stop website where the public can get information on state finances, contracts and employee salaries.

Called The Ledger, the site pulls together information that mostly was already available on the Web, but puts it in a single location.

“The average person might not know how to get them,” Topinka said in a meeting with The State Journal-Register editorial board.  “The object was to get all of that, put it under one roof, add to it and ultimately live up to the transparency everyone talks about.”

The site contains information about the backlog of state bills waiting to be paid.  It contains a list of contracts awarded by the state for products and services and links those contracts to information maintained by the State Board of Elections that shows campaign contributions made by those entities.

The site also lists salaries for state employees, something Topinka thinks will be a popular destination for people looking up information about state finances.

“We have a lot of office gossips who are going to want to look at salaries,” Topinka said.  “They’ve always been out there, but never this accessible.”

The site is a work in progress. Topinka said her office is working to put information online about pensions paid to retired workers.  She also wants to put information on it about legislative scholarships awarded by lawmakers.

“If we are lucky and the legislature gets rid of the program, I won’t have to do that,” Topinka said.  “I would prefer they get rid of the program.”

The House has voted to end legislative scholarships.  The bill is pending in the Senate, which has previously voted to keep them.

The Ledger has been under development for a nearly a year, Topinka said, and all work was done by her staff.

“We did not hire anybody extra,” she said.

Four or five other states have similar sites that post financial information, but Topinka said she thinks Illinois has the only site that will be updated daily.

“It should be a good template for any other taxing body,” she said.  “These numbers are nonpartisan.  There’s no agenda here.”

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.

Topinka repeats call to merge offices

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said Thursday Gov. Pat Quinn could find more budget savings from her office if legislative leaders would allow a vote on merging her office with the treasurer’s.

Speaking to The State Journal-Register editorial board, Topinka said combining her office with that of Treasurer Dan Rutherford would save the state $12 million annually.

However, combining the offices requires changing the state Constitution, and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, has blocked an attempt to put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

Topinka was responding to criticism from Quinn earlier in the week that she has not offered to cut her office budget by 9 percent. The Democratic governor asked all statewide officials to cut their budgets by that amount, but only he and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon have done so.

“To just take 9 percent cuts across the board, there are better ways to do this in terms of efficiencies,” said Topinka, a Republican.  “It takes a little more time to pick and choose rather than just doing this meat-ax approach where you throw out good things with bad things.”

Eliminating duplicative offices is a better way to save money, she said.

“I’m not trying to point the finger at him.  I’m just saying there might be other ways you might want to look at,” Topinka said.

Madigan has resisted combining the treasurer and comptroller’s offices to maintain additional oversight of state finances. With modern technology and reviews by the auditor general along with legislative budget experts, Topinka said, oversight wouldn’t suffer.

-- Doug Finke