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Options Beyond A 2016 Special Election


Legislators will be back in Springfield Thursday for a special session. They're set to debate holding a special election for the office of Comptroller. But other ideas are on the table too.

The stir over what to do about the Comptroller's office began when, just before she was to be sworn in for a second term, Judy BaarTopinka suddenly passed away.

Next week, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner will appoint Leslie Munger, a businesswoman and failed candidate for state representative, to fill Topinka's spot for the next four years.

But current Gov. Pat Quinn, and other Democrats say that's too long. They propose a special election in 2016.

Other legislators say instead, Illinois should focus on merging the offices of Comptroller and Treasurer. A plan to do that has stalled, and Republican Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine is pushing to move it forward.

Illinois' next Treasurer, Democrat Mike Frerichs, has come out in favor of something similar. He says the state would save $24 million by asking voters in 2016 to eliminate the office of Comptroller.

Frerichs would also be helping protect his own political hide. That move would leave Leslie Munger out of office, but allow him to keep his job for another two years. He'd go into the 2018 election cycle with an incumbent's advantage.

Frerichs said in a statement that shortly before Topinka died, they talked about working together to combine the state's two fiscal positions and he's committed to keeping his promise.

The Comptroller (which is listed first in the Illinois constitution) writes the state's checks; the Treasurer is charged with investing the state's money. Merging the two, or doing away with one of them, requires amending the state constitution.

Opponents (including House Speaker Michael Madigan, who largely controls what advances in that chamber) of a merger say dividing the responsibilities takes away opportunities for corruption and abuse of state funds; in the '50s, then Auditor of Public Accounts Orville Hodge embezzled millions of taxpayers' dollars.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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