House Dems, GOP talk through Purvis contract

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — A second two-hour hearing concerning why the governor’s chief education advisor is being paid by from the Human Services budget passed Tuesday with far fewer fireworks than did the first.

Beth Purvis, a contracted employee who holds the title secretary of education, didn’t make last week’s meeting of a House appropriations committee. But she made this one, and that appeared to carry some weight with the Democrats who control the chamber and the panel.

Committee chairman Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, opened the hearing by thanking Purvis not only for appearing, but for spending an hour with him beforehand.

Purvis, who has a doctorate and 27 years experience in public education, explained her role within the Rauner administration and said she is working across at least a dozen Illinois departments.

The governor, Purvis said, wants Illinoisans to be able to access “high-quality education options beginning at birth and through workforce readiness.”

She described her duties as that of the governor’s lead person in finding a way to make Illinois educational opportunities less fragmented, more accessible and of better quality —  regardless of geographic location or differences in family wealth.
Rep. Rita Mayfield, D-Waukegan, welcomed Purvis’ to state government.

“I don’t care what your salary is; I feel you will deserve it and more,” Mayfield said. “Women in the state of Illinois are paid disproportionate to the men. So I’m happy to see you getting paid here in Illinois.”

But the House committee charged with overseeing funding for the Department of Human Services would certainly ask questions about where and how funds were being spent, she added.

“This is nothing new,” Mayfield said. “We ask questions because we want to make sure we are being fiscally responsible to the number of individuals that we are responsible for: our women, our children, our seniors, our veterans, our most vulnerable. So, it’s not so much how much you’re getting paid, it was just more a question of where it was falling in line.”

Republicans, though, made clear they were not happy about last week’s hearing, which they said made Purvis, who joined Rauner’s team Feb. 17, a scapegoat for partisan politics.

House GOP Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, read off a list of six names of former Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn’s executive staff who were paid from the Human Services budget during the previous two years.

If his friends from the other side of the aisle were truly interested in investigating the practice of spreading gubernatorial staff costs to other agencies, they ought to call those people before the committee, too, Durkin said.

With that, Harris reminded the governor’s budget chief, Tim Nuding, the committee was waiting on a full list of all Rauner staff not being paid from the office of the governor’s budget. Nuding said the list should reach Harris by day’s end.

Nuding shielded Purvis from questions about the governor’s proposed state and departmental budgets for the coming fiscal year, which begins in July.

While Purvis is free to advise the governor and speak freely to the governor’s budget office, “in terms of funding decisions, those are soley on my shoulders,” Nuding said.

Despite serious moments and the usual political barbs, the session was far cooler than one last week, in which the governor’s deputy chief of staff, Rich Goldberg, blasted Democrats, accusing them of sexism for targeting Purvis’ position and running a “sham hearing.”

“I’m glad we got through a very good hearing without mentions of kangaroos and shams, which I think is a good thing,” Harris said as Tuesday’s hearing finished.

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