Mark Fitton Jun. 30, 2015, 5:15pm


SPRINGFIELD — A Southern Illinois Democrat and the governor’s office are exchanging words over the administration’s refusal to discuss staff salaries in front of an Illinois House committee.

Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, on Tuesday morning ripped Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office for twice refusing to send anyone to testify before the House Revenue and Finance Committee, which Bradley chairs.

For its part, the Republican governor’s office says the hearing is a partisan scam and seeks information already available on the state comptroller’s website.

As he did a week ago, Bradley on Tuesday three times asked, “Is there anyone from the governor’s office wishing to testify?”

When no answered, Bradley said the failure “to even attend or even participate in this process is not something this committee has faced in the past, except with regard to the last two hearings.”

Bradley said the committee and its members have taken on a great number of issues fairly, in as bipartisan a manner as possible and “with respect and with courtesy to each other and to this institution.”

“It is sad,” he said. “It is a sign of the times when we are faced with a situation where the message of democracy, or democracy, is fought with sound bites or press releases.”

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, complimented Bradley on a “a sterling soliloquy by the chairman,” but said these particular hearings were a sideshow compared to the task of reaching a budget agreement, which the Legislature and the governor have not yet been able to do.

“The governor’s office during the course of the General Services Appropriations Committee meeting … presented his salary compensations for all of the members of his office,” Harris said. “The budget director was straightforward, (and) he was open and transparent about the salaries being paid.”

“Certainly we can question any salaries being paid, but there was no attempt to hide what those salaries were,” Harris said.

“I think this issue is somewhat of a side issue to the more important issue of getting a budget for (fiscal year) 2016,” said Harris, the Republican spokesman on the committee.

In a letter dated Tuesday and addressed to Bradley, a senior Rauner staffer criticized Bradley’s previous hearing and a House Democrat-generated “hastily constructed memorandum .. filled with glaring errors and factual inaccuracies.”

Given Bradley’s support for a fiscal year 2016 spending plan the governor’s office considers $4 billion out of balance, “finding errors in basic arithmetic is not a great surprise,” wrote Richard Goldberg, Rauner’s deputy chief of state for legislative affairs.

Goldberg said the administration compared payroll records from February to May in 2014 to the same period in 2015 and found Rauner had paid out $4 million less in staff compensation.

Noting Rauner takes neither a salary nor pension, Goldberg challenged Bradley and other General Assembly members to decline an automatic cost-of-living allowance for 2016 “rather than hold sham hearings and issuing poorly constructed memorandums.”

The governor’s office actions and tone, Bradley said, were a marked departure from how the House does business and indicate a lack of respect for the Legislature and its members.

“If you don’t respect this institution, this House of the people, how can you ever expect to done what needs to be done?” he said.

Although he recessed the hearing for the day, Bradley said he’s not dropping the matter.

“This committee will move forward, and this is not going to go away,” he said. “This institution, this committee will be respected.”

Tuesday’s hearing was reminiscent of a brief June 23 session. When no one from the governor’s staff attended, Bradley recessed that hearing and the argument was taken up in dueling memos.

House Democrats contend Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office is spending at least $1 million more on staffing than the previous administration.

Rauner’s team disputes those numbers and argues House Democrats are playing games to distract from their own problems.

The argument has a sub-theme to it, too, as the Rauner-led GOP is reportedly preparing to “target” Bradley, or make a concerted effort to dislodge him from House seat in the November 2016 elections.

Mark Fitton is a reporter for Illinois News Network, a division of the Illinois Policy Institute.

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