By John O’Connor
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Bruce Rauner’s administration had arranged to pay a new deputy governor out of an employee health care account that is more than $4 billion behind on its bills due to the state’s budget crisis, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
After the AP reported Thursday that half of Leslie Munger’s $138,000 salary was scheduled to come from a pool of insurance premiums, a spokeswoman for the governor said an agency “mistakenly” designated the wrong fund and that Munger’s pay would come from elsewhere.
Munger, Rauner’s hand-picked choice to fill a vacancy in the comptroller’s office in 2015, landed the position with her political ally after losing a special election.
Rauner’s spokeswoman, Catherine Kelly, told the AP Wednesday that Munger had not yet been paid and that her salary would “not impact state employee health insurance payments or service providers.” She declined to elaborate Wednesday, and the office didn’t provide more details on Munger’s salary until Thursday evening, after the AP published its story.
Munger did not return a message left by the AP at her office.
Rauner, a conservative businessman who ran on a platform of government transparency, has a history of paying employees who work for him from accounts not affiliated with the governor’s office — a practice known as “off-shoring.” An analysis the AP conducted in August 2015 found that half of the $8 million payroll for 80 people answering to the governor was paid by agencies other than the chief executive’s office.
Illinois has been slogging along without a budget since mid-2015, the nation’s longest state budget drought since at least World War II.
More than a third of the state’s $12.3 billion in past-due bills involve IOUs to medical providers for employee health care. The shortage has forced doctors and hospitals to seek lines of credit or demand payment for service upfront. A dentists’ group prompted pending legislation to allow dentists to renege on state contracts for lack of payment.
Rep. Greg Harris, a House appropriations committee chairman, called the arrangement improper.
“This sounds like a really inappropriate shell game of a political pay-roller’s salary coming from funds for fraud and abuse — sort of ironic — and the group health fund,” said Harris, a Chicago Democrat.
The other half of the Republican’s salary is slated to be taken from federal money the state receives for human services, according to the codes used in letters Rauner’s fiscal operations director sent in late February to the comptroller’s payroll department.
Harris said the fund is used to pay Medicaid providers and prescription drug costs. In its statement Thursday, Rauner’s office said the money is for administrative purposes and not used for service providers.
In February, Rauner announced he hired Munger as deputy governor to deal with nonprofit agencies struggling under the strain of dried-up state financial support. The office said her work would be separate from that of another deputy governor, Trey Childress, who makes $198,000 and also has served as chief operating officer.
Munger will make slightly more working for the governor than the $135,700 salary allotted to the state comptroller. But she has not been paid for her last six months as comptroller, the state’s check-writer who must prioritize bills to be paid. That’s because last spring, she put her payroll and that of other constitutional officers and legislators at the back of the line with all bills, a move that prompted a lawsuit by lawmakers in December.
The 60-year-old Munger took the place of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who won re-election in 2014 but died a month later. Rather than grant Munger an uncontested four-year term, the Democratic-controlled General Assembly set up a special election in 2016, which Munger lost to Democrat Susana Mendoza.
Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat who is considering a run against Rauner, said he’s barraged by doctors, rural hospitals and ambulance services pleading for payment. He questioned burdening such a stressed account for “a patronage hire.”
“The former comptroller ought to know better,” Manar said. “She, of all people, ought to understand what additional liability on the group health insurance program means to families who pay their premiums every month.”
8:52 p.m. Updated to reflect comments from Rauner’s office.