Reports of Idaho state workers receiving bonuses or salary increases may have raised eyebrows or outcry with some, but Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who works closely with legislative staff and helps write the state budget, said he’s reviewed the bonuses for lawmakers’ staff and is fine with it.

“I certainly didn’t see anything that I would consider to be inappropriate,” Cameron said about bonuses paid out to workers at the Legislative Services Office (LSO).  All LSO employees received a bonus of more than $1,200 this year, for a total more than $90,000.  Those bonuses were within LSO’s budget for the fiscal year.

Agency head Jeff Youtz said the payments came after several years of stalled wages and were recognition and compensation for workers doing less with more as the agency reduced its overall staff.

“That savings was what generated enough funds for them to give these one-time salary adjustments, in essence replacing the money that was lost because they were furloughed,” said Cameron, one of the co-chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), which sets the state budget every year.

JFAC members reviewed the payments to LSO staff at a meeting earlier this month.  Cameron said there were questions about the payments and that it was a perception issue, since the so-called bonuses come as other agencies face cuts and economic growth is slow.

While the payments to LSO workers weren’t as big an issue, Cameron said he was more worried by salary increases given to other state workers.  “In my mind, the permanent increases are more concerning because they won’t necessarily have the money next year in salary savings to maintain those,” Cameron said.

Cameron mentioned the Division of Financial Management (DFM), the office that helps Gov. Butch Otter put together a budget plan every year.  Six DFM budget analysts received salary increases this year, though budget chief Wayne Hammon said those bumps in pay brought those workers in line with their co-workers.

“It’s a fairness issue: I can’t have two people sitting right next to each other doing exactly the same job, getting exactly the same performance review, but getting different salaries,” Hammon said.

Hammon said the salary increases in his office are sustainable amid tight state budgets.  “Every one of [LSO’s] staff members got bonuses—a couple of DFM staffers got raises that total less than $8,000 a year,” Hammon said adding that raises won’t lead to an overall increased budget for DFM.  He also said that DFM, which has fewer employees and tax dollars funding it than LSO, trimmed its budget by 36 percent in the last few years, which is more than LSO.  “We have led by example.”

LSO paid out the most to its workers in a report of one-time payments released by the state controller’s office earlier this month.  Second on the list was the state court system, which paid 40 court reporters slightly less than $1,000 each.

Court administrator Patti Tobias said those payments to court reporters, who keep records of what happens in courts, aren’t bonuses, but a necessary payment.  Reporters’ payroll period and pay days were pushed back by two weeks due to an administrative decision by the court, which would’ve delay their pay for work this year into 2012.

“The court reporters would have experienced a negative financial impact,” Tobias said.  “The court did not want them to suffer in 2011.”  Court reporters will get another one-time payment later this year.

Other agencies that gave workers bonuses or one-time payments include the Department of Finance, State Appellate Public Defender, and Industrial Commission.

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