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Column

Reeder: Ghosts in state payroll not a new phenomenon

SPRINGFIELD – Way back, in 1973, then-Gov. Dan Walker hired a young Georgetown University graduate and others for his staff, but paid them with money from state agencies rather than from the governor’s office.

The practice ruffled some feathers, as well it should. Folks in Springfield started calling them “ghost payrollers.”

After all, it appeared Walker was trying to make it look like he was spending less money to run his office than he really was.

Despite the outcry, the practice continued and not only for the four years Walker was governor. Republican and Democratic governors have emulated Walker’s method of artificially deflating their budgets by pushing some of their expenses off on state agencies.

While it is perfectly legal, it’s a lousy practice.

Government needs to be transparent about how it spends money, and this practice isn’t the least bit transparent.

It wasn’t a good idea when Walker did it. It wasn’t a good idea when Rod Blagojevich did it. It wasn’t a good idea when Pat Quinn did it.

And it most certainly isn’t a good idea now that Gov. Bruce Rauner is doing it.

House Democrats vented mock outrage June 4 about Beth Purvis, who is Rauner’s top education adviser. She earns $250,000 and is paid from the Department of Human Services, which is the state’s top welfare agency.

That is an awful lot of money.

Considering that at least 20 local school superintendents across Illinois are earning more than Purvis, it doesn’t seem particularly out of line for what the top education policy adviser to the governor ought to be making.

But some Democratic lawmakers have found religion when it comes to the evils of ghost payrolling – at least when a Republican governor is doing it.

It’s odd we never heard a peep from them when Quinn had at least five of his staffers drawing salaries from the Department of Human Services.

Of course, that’s beside the point. It’s a political game – plain and simple.

The cost to the taxpayers is exactly the same whether the money is drawn from a fund for the governor’s office or some executive agency.

The reason this is a bad practice is that government needs to be transparent. And it’s hard to know just how much taxpayer money is being spent to operate the governor’s office when money is siphoned from various agencies.

Purvis is a victim, but not a victim of sexism, as some Republicans claim. She is a casualty of the ongoing war between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Rauner.

She got caught in the crossfire, but she should recover from her political wounds.

After all, other “ghost payrollers” have.  Look no further than that young Georgetown graduate, Gov. Walker hired.

His name?

Patrick J. Quinn, the 41st governor of Illinois.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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