Gov. Bruce Rauner is paying the hefty salary of his new education secretary from the budget of the state human services agency, where he recommended millions of dollars in cuts to programs aimed at dealing with autism, epilepsy and burials for the indigent, according to records that the Chicago Sun-Times obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Rauner hired former charter school director Beth Purvis at an annual salary of $250,000, making it the highest-paid position in the governor's cabinet at the time. Purvis' March 13 contract indicates that she will be paid under the Department of Human Services, even while reporting directly to the governor's office.
Three weeks after the contract was signed, Rauner's office announced that the agency was strapped for cash and called for $26 million in service cuts, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The cuts led to some programs completely shutting down, and House Speaker Michael Madigan held a public hearing on the matter, saying Democrats believed a budget deal with Rauner protected such services.
The cuts eventually were restored by the Rauner administration, which said it found additional revenue. But Rauner's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016 calls for more cuts within the agency.
State Rep. Greg Harris, chair of the Appropriations-Human Services Committee in the House, said Wednesday that he wasn't aware the Department of Human Services was paying Purvis' salary.
"It's financial trickery, it's not transparent," Harris said. "This is a huge salary, especially when ... you're cutting autism and epilepsy, and you're paying someone at the same time a quarter of a million bucks?"
Purvis declined to comment Wednesday, referring questions to the governor's office. In an emailed statement, the governor's office said she was getting paid with the agency's funds because "a portion of her portfolio is in early childhood development."
Purvis' contract calls for her to be involved in other DHS matters, including evaluations of teachers, instructors and superintendents at the Illinois School for the Deaf, the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired and the Illinois Center for Rehabilitation and Education.
The practice of paying state employees out of different agency budgets to make the governor's budget appear leaner isn't anything new, according to longtime Springfield political observer Kent Redfield.
"Unfortunately, it's business as usual, which our governor likes to say was in the past," he said. "The fact that you're drawing down the resources of an agency that's under stress, you're taking part of its payroll and part of its resources for someone who should legitimately be within the office of the governor — it really is a stretch to say the DHS is where she should be."