Comptroller: State shouldn't allow 'offshoring' of governors' employees

  • Susana Mendoza Democrat candidate for Statewide Comptroller

    Susana Mendoza Democrat candidate for Statewide Comptroller

 
By Susana A. Mendoza
Guest columnist
Posted4/26/2018 1:00 AM

The "Truth-in-Hiring" bill a bipartisan coalition of legislators has introduced at my request is very simple: If you work in the governor's office, you should be paid from the governor's budget. Your salary should not be taken from state police; state health care programs; or from money that is supposed to fund investigations of child abuse.

For many administrations now, Illinois governors -- Republican and Democratic -- have used the deceptive practice of "offshoring" their employees to mask the true size of their budgets. The expression comes from the practice of rich people hiding their assets in offshore accounts on the Cayman Islands or Panama, for example, to avoid paying taxes on them.

 

Right now the governor has the majority of his employees -- 58 of 102 -- hidden in agencies other than his office. They don't actually work in those agencies. They work in his office, but their salaries are paid from the agencies. This allows the governor's $10.4 million budget to be misrepresented as a mere $4.9 million budget.

You've probably heard some of the most eye-popping examples -- $250,000 for an education czar paid out of the Department of Human Services; or $140,000 for a deputy chief of staff paid out of the Illinois State Police budget.

What's worse is that more than $5.5 million is being siphoned away from agencies that need it to provide health care, environmental protection, juvenile justice or public safety.

I would respectfully suggest that offshoring is not a harmless "bookkeeping" technique. The state constitution gives the General Assembly -- not the governor -- the power to appropriate money to specific agencies for specific purposes. Raiding other agencies' budgets to double the size of the governor's staff overrides the legislature's constitutional appropriation authority and hurts state agencies' ability to provide crucial services to state residents.

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Last year when I introduced my Debt Transparency Act requiring monthly reports of unpaid bills sitting at state agencies, you saw it pass with unanimous or near-unanimous overrides of the governor's veto because legislators of both parties could see it was a good reform that would outlive current political fights.

We are already seeing the benefits of that reform as legislators on both sides of the aisle have more up-to-date figures to craft a budget. Illinois citizens have a clearer picture of the state's finances and the billion dollars in late payment interest penalties the state racked up in the last few years by not paying its bills.

Last week our bipartisan Truth-in-Hiring Act (HB5121; SB3233) unanimously passed the House of Representatives with support from chief co-sponsors from both parties including David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican. Please encourage your state senators of both parties to likewise pass it unanimously and Gov. Rauner to sign it.

State Rep. Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat, another chief co-sponsor, said, "We had to sit through heart-wrenching testimony from parents of autistic kids who found that their small program had been totally eliminated by the governor. While he's cutting autism funding and cutting services for homeless youth, he's finding room in Human Services to pay a couple hundred thousand dollars for an 'education czar'."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Gov. Rauner did not invent offshoring. This bad practice has been going on for years. It was wrong when Gov. Quinn did it. It was wrong when Gov. Blagojevich did it. It was wrong when Gov. Ryan did it. And it's still wrong when Gov. Rauner does it.

It's time for transparency and truth in hiring. I invite Gov. Rauner to join our effort to pass this long-overdue transparency reform. We need to declare an end to offshoring now.

Susana A. Mendoza, a Chicago Democrat, is Illinois comptroller.

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