Topinka's chart will tell the tale
The relatively small percentage of people who want to know exactly how their tax dollars are spent in Illinois are getting some help from the state comptroller's office.
Thinking up new ways to let taxpayers see how government spends their money is a little bit like feeding grandma's chicken soup to someone who's under the weather — it can't hurt.
It's in that context that the public should welcome state comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's decision to take a few extra steps to let the public know how their money is being spent.
Topinka's office recently announced that taxpayers who receive a state income tax refund check will also receive a one-page report letting them know how Illinois disperses its revenues.
The flier will feature a pie chart that divides state expenditures into specific categories, like education, health care, etc. Those who won't be getting a refund check can find the same information on the treasurer's website.
Topinka, a Republican who is running for re-election to a second term as comptroller, said she decided to include the information with the refund checks to increase "transparency" and that it's being done at minimal cost. But it's also being done because Topinka is involved in what could be a tough re-election effort against Democratic Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
Simon, who opted not to run for another term as lieutenant governor with Gov. Pat Quinn, has been pounding the transparency issue on the campaign trail. She's suggested that Topinka's office has been insufficiently zealous in its oversight of government spending, going so far as to blame Topinka for the Dixon comptroller scandal.
Longtime city comptroller Rita Crundwell, who's now serving a lengthy prison sentence in federal prison, drew national attention after her two-decade, $54 million embezzlement of municipal funds was discovered. There are certainly people who can be blamed for what happened in Dixon, but Topinka and her office employees are not among them.
The comptroller pays state bills and compiles financial reports filed with it by towns, counties and taxing districts. To suggest that Topinka also is responsible for auditing the books of all the state's towns, counties and taxing districts and is to be considered at fault when one of the hundreds of town, county and tax district employees goes astray is simply mistaken, the product of an effort to secure an issue that might draw votes in an election year.
Topinka, however, is well within her purview in letting taxpayers know where their money is going. If it's included along with a letter that includes a refund check, some people might even read it before depositing it in the round file.