In her first days on the job in December 2016, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza grabbed the purse strings of a state in the midst of a fiscal unraveling.

The “rainy day” fund in Illinois stood at $60,000, enough to run the state for just a matter of minutes. In the middle of a 17-month budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-controlled legislature, the state’s backlog of unpaid bills was on a steep climb toward $16.7 billion in overdue IOUs.

The state’s unfunded pension liabilities were rising toward $145 billion, and credit rating agencies were on a run of eight straight rating downgrades that ultimately would leave Illinois one notch above “junk” status.

Fast forward five years. Mendoza has whittled down the bill backlog to $3.8 billion and is paying bills within 15 days. Illinois was the only U.S. state to borrow from the federal government’s Municipal Liquidity Facility at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but Mendoza repaid a $2 billion debt two years early, avoiding $82 million in interest payments.

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David Greising is the president and chief executive of the Better Government Association, joining the BGA in 2018. For nearly a century, the BGA has fought for honest and effective government through investigative journalism and policy advocacy.

Greising’s career started at the City News Bureau of Chicago, with stops at the Chicago Sun-Times, Business Week magazine, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. He was a co-founder of the Chicago News Cooperative and worked briefly as a consultant to World Business Chicago. Today, Greising writes on government issues in regular columns for the Tribune and Crain’s Chicago Business.

Under Greising’s leadership, the BGA has played a key role in uncovering public corruption amidst the wide-ranging federal probe, starting with an in-depth report about Ald. Ed Burke’s conflicts of interest before the federal charges against Burke. The BGA also has exposed waste and fraud at O’Hare and the proliferation of corruption and poverty into Dolton, Lyons and other Chicago suburbs. The BGA’s policy team has led calls for ethics reform in Chicago’s City Council and in state government.