- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois Democrats touted Thursday what they called a compromise over the budget impasse with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. But the plan they pushed through the House had no GOP support, and debate devolved into a heated exchange over a completely separate issue.

Lawmakers, who left town Sunday after approving a budget as much as $4 billion short on funds, returned to take up changes in workers’ compensation, one of the issues the first-term executive says is a must before he’ll discuss a tax increase to close the deficit. Rauner, however, had already dismissed the proposed changes as not as comprehensive as necessary. House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Democrats adopted the plan on a party-line vote.

But it wasn’t workers’ compensation that sparked a scorching verbal volley at day’s end. It was a Rauner aide’s comments to lawmakers who earlier in the day questioned him about how Rauner is paying his $250,000-a-year education secretary.

Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Goldberg labeled the appropriations committee’s proceedings as a “sham” when asked why school czar Beth Purvis is on the payroll of the Department of Human Services - an agency Rauner has targeted for spending cuts to deal with the deficit. The Chicago Sun-Times reported the arrangement last week.

Goldberg said previous governors had done the same thing and said, “There’s no reason to subject a great leader like Beth Purvis to a sham hearing.”

After the workers’ compensation debate, Lou Lang, a deputy majority leader from Skokie who had attended the hearing, took issue with Goldberg’s attitude.

“What I heard was somebody who insulted the members of the committee who asked straight questions,” Lang said. “What I heard was a person who changed the subject and refused to address the purpose of the subject matter hearing.”

And Lang was rankled that Rauner’s press office issued a statement decrying lawmakers’ “sexist smear campaign,” saying no one had mentioned Purvis’ gender.

Lang’s declamation raised the ire of Republican Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove, who echoed claims that the committee’s proceedings were a “charade” and “kangaroo court.”

When someone interrupted him, Sandack said, “I’m sorry we’re wasting people’s time. I’m sorry I was just subjected to a harangue, a political speech on the floor of the House.”

A statement from Rauner spokeswoman Catherine Kelly claimed the Purvis questions were a distraction from Democrats’ unbalanced budget and refusal to take a look at high salaries of their staff members.

Madigan was unimpressed with the administration’s response on Purvis.

“It’s pretty limp,” Madigan told reporters. “They ought to spend a little bit more time strategizing and thinking about things.”

Republicans said the workers’ compensation changes, intended to make the insurance less costly for businesses by making rules on what constitutes a workplace injury tighter, don’t go far enough and the proceedings were a waste of time because Rauner won’t go along.

Rauner wants tougher rules on workers’ comp, civil liability lawsuits, and political makeovers such as term limits and fairer legislative district drawing, before he’ll discuss more revenue for the budget, such as through a tax increase.

The House and Senate will be in session Tuesday.

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The workers’ compensation bill is HB1287.

Online: https://www.ilga.gov .

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Contact John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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