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Dems want Rauner to testify over why money for ‘frailest, most vulnerable’ went to $250k appointee

SPRINGFIELD — House Democrats on Thursday asked Gov. Bruce Rauner to appear before a House committee to explain why the governor’s office arranged to have his $250,000-a-year education czar paid out of money meant for “the frailest and most vulnerable populations in the state.”

The move follows a Chicago Sun-Times story, which revealed that Rauner’s office penned a $250,000 annual contract with the governor’s hand-picked education secretary, Beth Purvis, to be paid out of the Department of Human Services budget. The contract was signed three weeks before the governor’s office authorized $26 million in cuts to that same agency.

In a letter to Rauner, state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, questioned testimony by then-Acting DHS Secretary Gregory Bassi and then-interim secretary James Dimas “that the lack of available funding was responsible for the decision to eliminate or reduce funding for these vitally needed programs. These programs serve many of the frailest and most vulnerable populations in the state.”

While the cuts were restored for the remainder of this fiscal year, the administration has called for more cuts for services in FY16.

On Thursday, Harris said the letter was hand-delivered to the governor’s office but he had not heard a response.

A Rauner spokesman on Thursday said he had not seen the letter.

“I invite you to appear before the House Human Services Appropriations Committee to explain the decision-making process that led to this situation. We are also interested to know if there are other department heads whose compensation is buried within the budgets of departments other than those that they lead,” wrote Harris, chairman of the committee.

Rauner’s move to pay a top staff member out of money meant for another agency isn’t a new practice.

Past governors have been criticized for so-called “off-shoring,” a practice of paying employees out of different agency budgets to make the governor’s budget appear leaner.

“I am not sure that given our history of governors in Illinois that simply repeating mistakes from the past is a good idea,” said Harris.

Greg Harris letter to Gov. Rauner