April 19, 2024

Eye On Illinois: Comptroller’s spending details welcome addition to data transparency effort

Regular Eye On Illinois readers know the easy ways for government officials to curry my favor. High on the list are data, transparency and easy access.

Enter Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who got three birds with one stone last week by launching an online portal detailing the state’s expenses from dealing with an influx of people seeking political asylum in the U.S.

Regular readers also know nothing lights up my inbox like a column using any form of the word “immigration.” So it will come as little surprise Mendoza’s motives here are largely political.

“While the state is incurring expenses that, frankly, should be paid by the federal government, I want to make sure that taxpayers know exactly what the state is spending money on when it comes to the arrival and care of asylum seekers,” Mendoza said in Thursday’s release. “As elected officials and citizens discuss the best policies to accommodate the influx of asylum seekers, having accurate numbers will benefit all involved.”

The portal is available at illinoiscomptroller.gov/asylum-seekers. On Monday morning, the top-line number was $31,205,993.32. The first listed payment was June 5, when the Department of Human Services sent $5,399,606.16 in general revenue funds to the city of Chicago on contract 3FCSBK06928. Viewers can click on each contract number for some additional details.

Outside of Mendoza’s scope is how the vendors spend their funds. So a true accounting of where the state dollars go requires an understanding of the city’s processes, which is not something any website dashboard can succinctly summarize.

That said, other line items are easily deciphered: on Dec. 15 the Central Management office sent $1,464.64 to Evanston-based Multilingual Connections for translation services. One click reveals this is a five-year contract, resulting from a sealed-bid process, that opened July 1, 2021, and expires May 13, 2026, worth up to $690,000.

Mendoza’s release highlighted her similar efforts to disclose COVID-19 allocations, notably an Associated Press survey ranking Illinois as the most transparent state. She also smartly called on Cook County and Chicago to follow her lead, as well as the federal government.

The portal also affords a chance to remember how a comptroller differs from a treasurer. In broad terms it’s checkbooks and investments. But there’s a history involved, and since it’s Illinois, that background involves corruption. In 2018, Illinois Public Media’s Sam Dunklau explained how 1970 Constitutional Convention delegates responded to Orville Hodge, who was aditor of public accounts from 1952-1956 and stole about $6 million. (For more on that tale, visit tinyurl.com/WhyComptroller.)

And if you’re passionate about the modern politics of immigration, from any perspective, the portal provides ammunition for contacting elected officials to demand answers.

Data, transparency, easy access. More of all three.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.