Gov. Bruce Rauner promised a leaner, more transparent administration than his predecessors, yet he's rigorously following their time-honored practice of asking other departments to sign paychecks for his staff.
Among employees doing significant work for Rauner, half their combined salaries — about $4 million — comes from separate agency budgets and are not listed on his office payroll, according to a review of documents by The Associated Press.
That figure is about $1 million more than Rauner's staff reported in June during a contentious hearing over use of the strategy before a House committee headed by Rep. John Bradley, a Marion Democrat.
It's taxpayer money either way, but opponents say the accounting maneuver, which they call "off-shoring," can short-change some important state services while understating the true costs of running the chief executive's shop. For example, they argue, if the Corrections Department has to pay a high salary for a gubernatorial aide, that's money that can't be used to pay one or more prison guards.
Amid this summer's budget impasse, Democratic lawmakers argued the Republican governor's administration is squeezing essential state services, particularly by having high-priced consultants' salaries paid by other agencies. The administration acknowledged that about $3 million in salaries for Rauner's staff was paid by other agencies and provided lawmakers with lists showing his Democratic predecessor, Pat Quinn, annually "off-shored" even more — $3.5 million.
Rauner aides, who continue to insist the office pays less in compensation than Quinn, were not counting key contractual agreements, such as a $250,000 salary for education adviser Beth Purvis paid by the Department of Human Services or a seven-month, $135,000 contract financed by the Department of Revenue for chief financial officer Donna Arduin.
Based on a publicly available online directory of governor's staff, Rauner is asking other agencies to cover about $4 million — more than Quinn, the AP's analysis found.
The directory lists about 80 people with contact information. Counting a dozen more staffers provided by the governor's office and not on the list — such as those staffing the Executive Mansion — annual salaries total $7.8 million. Half of that salary comes from at least 18 other agencies, including the Department on Aging, the Illinois State Police, the Capital Development Board and the Department of Natural Resources. The total budget for the governor's office is $5 million.
Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said the brouhaha is an attempt by Democrats to divert attention from the tax increase they want to impose to close a budget gap, a prospect Rauner has steadfastly opposed. Aides have argued that the "off-shoring" practice is valid because the staffers in question also do work for the agencies that pay them.
"You can slice and dice the state payroll in multiple ways, but the two bottom lines are: all payroll is publicly reported, and the Rauner administration is spending less on total agency-wide payroll than the previous administration," Trover said in a statement responding to the AP's analysis.
House Speaker Michael Madigan said Rauner is violating a campaign pledge of government transparency.
"This is one of the things that he complained about as a candidate," the Chicago Democrat said. "It's easy enough for the governor to (instead) come in before the Legislature and say, 'I'd like to increase the size of the appropriation in the governor's office because I want to hire people that I think are qualified, and I'd like to pay them an appropriate salary.'"
Other top salaries among those not paid by the governor's office include Hardik Bhatt, who as chief information officer makes $145,000 from the Department of Central Management Services; legislative director Jim Kaitschuk, whose $132,400 paycheck is covered by the Transportation Department; and the $130,000 salary financed by the lieutenant governor's office for Washington, D.C.-based Kathy Lydon, Rauner's director of federal affairs.
The AP reported in January that Rauner's top staff members — including those paid from the governor's budget — were making, in total, 36 percent more than their predecessors under Quinn. The AP later reported that Purvis would get $250,000, double what her predecessors received.
Democratic lawmakers began asking questions about "off shoring" after the Chicago Sun-Times reported in May that Purvis' salary comes from the Department of Human Services. They didn't quibble over the amount of the salary, agreeing that qualified staffers come at a cost. But paying Purvis from the health services budget takes money away from child care, schooling for autistic children and substance abuse treatment, they said.
"The governor can claim the office is saving taxpayer money when it isn't and avoid accountability," said Bradley, the House Democrat who's carried on the probe, "and spend money for the governor's office not authorized by the General Assembly."