DIXON – Tom Cross thinks the office of the Illinois treasurer needs to be more aggressive.
Cross, R-Oswego, is a former prosecutor in the Kendall County State’s Attorney’s Office who was elected state representative in 1992 and became House Republican Leader in 2002.
He has turned his focus now to state treasurer, and won the Republican nomination in the March primary election. Cross will face Democrat Michael Frerichs in the Nov. 4 general election. Treasurer Dan Rutherford made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor last month.
“I think I’m probably a lot like everybody in the state,” Cross said Friday during an interview with Sauk Valley Media at the Telegraph office in Dixon. “My emotions have ranged from kind of embarrassed at what’s gone on – governors going to jail and the financial condition of the state – frustrated and just angry.”
To address the state’s high unemployment, unfunded pension liability, and overall financial troubles, Cross said, the treasurer should take a more aggressive role beyond just investing the state’s money and running the state’s Bright Start College Savings program.
“I think you should, and I would if I’m elected, take this office and kind of use it in a different way – kind of as an activist,” Cross said. “You have to think differently, as bad as this place is.”
The state Legislature has a constitutional requirement to pass a balanced budget. To enforce that, Cross said, he’d be willing to ask a judge to order the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget.
That’s a power the treasurer has, he said, but not one he would use without first trying other means.
“While that may seem a little harsh, if we don’t start balancing our budget, we will never get out of this hole,” he said.
Balancing the budget has an impact at the local level, he said, explaining that when the state spends money it doesn’t have, it often runs into situations where it owes money to local school districts or businesses.
“Today we have about $7 billion of unpaid bills,” Cross said. “If you’re a nursing home or a hospital or a school district, we owe you money. ... We have a provision in the statute that says if we don’t pay people on time, we have to pay them a late fee.
“We spent $300 million in late fees last year. You can imagine what $300 million would do in Lee County.”
Cross wants the treasurer’s office to begin reviewing state policies in a more proactive way, almost like a watchdog, to make sure money isn’t misspent.
He also said getting accurate information to the public about the state’s pensions and unemployment issues is valuable, and something the state hasn’t done well enough.
“So, what we want to do on a quarterly basis is provide a report card, if you will, and say: ‘Here’s our real debt. Here’s our real pension problem. Here’s our real unemployment problem,’” Cross said.
“And I think if people really know the condition of the state, I think they’ll be a little more attentive and hold lawmakers a lot more accountable.”