Legislative workers got nearly $100,000 in bonuses this year
Idaho's Legislative Services Office (LSO), which assists state lawmakers, paid out bonuses of at least $1,200 to 59 employees this year. The $94,633 given out is almost 42 percent of all bonuses given out to state employees, though the director of the agency said it's in an effort to reward staff amidst shrinking staffs and budgets.
“I think the employees we have left that are doing more with less deserve that kind of recognition and compensation,” said LSO Director Jeff Youtz. He said that the bonuses are within his agency's budget, and come after three years of no pay increases and a loss of six staff members..
“Because of these staff reductions and retirements, I had the money and I felt that my employees deserved them,” Youtz said. “There is no salary freeze on. The Legislature and the executive branch have been supportive of giving flexibility to agency directors to reward good people and balance their budgets.”
Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget chief and the leader of the Division of Financial Management (DFM), has urged state agencies to only give out bonuses to exceptional workers. “DFM has worked with all of them to minimize the bonuses and salaries, just because we're trying to be fair across all the state agencies,” Hammon said. “We have not allowed agencies to give bonuses to every single employee.”
DFM, which is part of the governor's executive branch, oversees budgets for most state agencies, but not for LSO, which is part of the legislative branch.
One lawmaker who helps write state budget said he'd review the LSO bonuses. “I think every agency is grappling with how to keep their good employees,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Cameron is one of the leaders of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which is meeting next week and could look at the bonuses.
All told, 185 state workers have gotten bonuses this year for a total of $227,003. The middle point for those bonuses was $1,000, which is what 15 employees in the State Appellate Public Defender's Office were paid, though bonuses ranged from $110 for University of Idaho graduate assistants to $5,000 for analysts in the Department of Finance. In the judicial branch, 40 court reporters received bonuses of slightly less than $1,000.
By comparison, in all of 2010, 86 state workers received $99,267. Almost half that amount -- $49083.22 -- went to Bob Maynard, the chief investor for the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI), who earns performance bonuses depending on how well the state retirement fund performs.
More than 380 state workers have also gotten pay raises during the current year, with the middle point for increases $1 an hour. The biggest increase went to Boise State University football coach Chris Petersen, the highest paid state employee. His hourly salary rose $62.72 an hour to $502.93. He signed a new contract extension last year.
Many of the wage increases and bonuses went to employees in agencies that generate revenue, including the State Insurance Fund, the State Liquor Division, the Department of Finance, and public universities and colleges.
Alex Neiwirth, a field organizer for the Idaho Association of Government Employees, said more than 95 percent of state workers aren't getting any extra money this year. “Our main concern with it is equity and that these aren't equitable at all,” he said.
“What should be happening is all state employees' wages need to be keeping up with inflation instead of losing ground,” Neiwirth said.
Each of the past two years, the Idaho Division of Human Resources, which Hammon formerly ran, has issued a report saying the state should bring its workforce more in line with private businesses by raising wages and lowering benefits. Due to the tight state's budget, lawmakers haven't made any major structural changes to workers' pay and benefits, though smaller spending plans have led some agencies to reduce staff and force remaining staff to take unpaid furlough days.