SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) – The governor’s race isn’t the only statewide election to watch – so is the race for the state’s chief financial officer.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza is running for re-election against Republican challenger Shannon Teresi.

A recent Nexstar, Emerson College and The Hill poll shows about 49% of likely voters said they would support Mendoza, while about 36% said they would back Teresi.

The office controls Illinois’ checkbook and makes sure the state’s bills get paid. Mendoza, who has held the office since 2016, said voters may not know a lot about what the office does.

“I think the comptroller’s office is probably the most important office most people may not know that much about,” Mendoza said. “But it really is at the center of everything that happens in state government, and it’s been instrumental in the state’s financial turnaround.”

Mendoza touts turning around the state’s finances after Illinois suffered from two economic crises: a two-year budget impasse under Governor Bruce Rauner and the recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The state’s bill backlog, once totaling nearly $17 billion, now sits at about $2 billion, an amount where the state can pay off all debts within 30 days. 

“I am very proud to have successfully managed our state through both of these crises, and delivered the best, most impressive financial results including paying down the state’s backlog of unpaid bills before a penny of federal ARPA stimulus funds came in the door,” Mendoza said.

Her opponent, Republican candidate Shannon Teresi, believes Mendoza doesn’t have much to celebrate.

“It’s completely egregiously misleading the taxpayers when the true reality is we’ve taken on more debt, we have unbalanced budgets and she is only talking about one fund,” Teresi said.

Mendoza said the credit rating agencies tell a different story.

“They have acknowledged that Illinois is in fact, and in large part, they credit my work as shepherding in transparency reforms, paying down the bill backlog, and getting our vendors paid very quickly … and also putting away a billion dollars in reserves as some of the key reasons why our credit has improved dramatically on my watch,” Mendoza said.

Teresi, a CPA who also works for the McHenry County auditor’s office, said if elected, she would work to make the office run more efficiently.

“On day one, I will be meeting with all staff to really see what they are trained to do and make sure that if they don’t have experience in one area that they get that experience, and they’re cross trained,” Teresi said. “That way we are faster [and] more efficient.”

Earlier this year, State Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), who is also running for treasurer, filed a bill to combine the treasurer and comptroller’s offices. 

Mendoza doesn’t support that plan, citing a 1956 embezzlement scheme that occurred when one person controlled both offices.

“There’s a reason why we have two separate and distinct offices,” Mendoza said. “It’s to build in strong internal controls, and a separation of duties that would bring in strong checks and balances to the state’s finances.”

Teresi, on the other hand, supports the idea because she believes it will save taxpayers money.

“We can make sure there are checks and balances over our taxpayer money,” Teresi said. “It’s a slam dunk. We need right now to find every way to save money to change the state, so Illinois is attractive and a great place to live for Illinoisans.”