John Daley ReportingCash bonuses for state workers are under a microscope tonight.
Yesterday the legislative auditor general released a report, which showed that although the state is facing tough times financially, in some agencies most workers got bonuses for superior performance.
Today the governor and the House Speaker offered sharply different explanations for the situation. The halls of state government were abuzz over this report today.
No doubt bonus policies will get plenty of scrutiny from lawmakers and various state agencies. What's more, this issue might end up being a hot political issue as we head into next year's race for governor.
Last legislative session, ordinary citizens went to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers for a few more dollars for programs facing the scalpel. Little did they know, some state departments were giving almost every employee a cash bonus.
Percentage of Workers Getting Bonus
A new report from the auditor general finds in six of seven agencies studied, more than half the employees got bonuses last year.
Administrative Services gave bonuses to 99%, and every single worker at Human Resource Management -- 44 total -- got a bonus.
Total two-year cost for bonuses in those agencies reached about 2 million dollars.
House Speaker Marty Stephens says the responsibility clearly lies with the executive branch.
Marty Stephens, (R) House Speaker: "I'm simply saying that there appears to be some culture in the executive branch. If all of the departments are doing that, it could be better mitigated from the top."
Stephens' comments represent an indirect but clear swipe at the Governor who says he isn't defending the practice.
Gov. Mike Leavitt, (R) Utah: "This has been a period when there have been no salary increases at all for any state employees for a couple of years; and my guess is that there have been some department heads that have been looking for ways to be able to maintain good people."
Marty Stephens, (R) House Speaker: "There are occasions when those kinds of things happen, but not 100% of your workers are key employees that you have to keep."
A backdrop to this debate is that both men are mulling a run for governor next year, and it clearly could be a campaign issue.
Critics wonder if the practice reflects a "wink-and-a-nod" policy of giving pay raises disguised as bonuses. The Governor says its not.
Gov. Mike Leavitt, (R) Utah: "I would stop short of calling it underhanded. You don't do business in public the way we do it without having people know about it. And that's why we have audits is to determine what we can do better."
Neither Leavitt nor Stephens have said yet whether they plan to run for governor next year. But both say they expect to make an announcement by late summer or early fall.
As for the bonus issue, a final report looking at all state agencies is due out later this year as well.