The Legislature’s Oversight Committee ordered a review of state salaries and found two state agency heads got big bonuses, as did others employed by the state. The report found former Economic Development director Mike Blouin got a 59-thousand dollar “retention” bonus last year from Governor Vilsack before Blouin resigned to run for governor in July.
Vilsack also gave Department of Corrections director Gary Maynard a 34-thousand dollar retention bonus. The report found nearly one-thousand state employees had received bonuses of a thousand dollars or more. Twenty-eight of them got bonuses worth more than five-thousand dollars.
Representative James Hutter, a Republican from Davenport, says it’s not right. “We’ve got people losing jobs. We’ve got companies closing in this state and here we’ve got government doing this,” Hutter says. “I don’t know if the governor is doing this so he can get more votes when he runs for president or if these people deserve it, but I really have reservations in giving bonuses to public employees.”
Representative Clel Baudler, a Republican from Greenfield who’s a member of the Oversight Committee, says the bonuses are ridiculous. “I think it’s an over-used practice,” Baudler says. “I think it should be eliminated totally.” Baudler hasn’t reviewed the entire list of bonuses yet, but the highest went to a doctor who worked for the Department of Human Services. Dr. Som Lerd was on-call nights, weekends and holidays, and earned an extra 126-thousand dollars for his overtime work last year.
Rodell Mollineau, Vilsack’s communications director, says all that extra pay is necessary in order to compete with the private sector. “A number of these employees who received this sort of extra pay/recruitment/retention bonuses, they have special skills, such as health professionals, such as directors and they could be making much more in the private sector,” Mollineau says. “For instance former director Blouin took over a $90,000 pay cut to become the director of economic development under this administration and he helped to spur many economic opportunities for this state.”
Mollineau suggests Iowans support the extra pay for certain state employees. “I think Iowans want the best and brightest for state government and I think that all Iowans would agree that we don’t want third-rate professionals running state government,” Mollineau says. “The marketplace puts certain values on some of these jobs and that’s something we acknowledge, but overall this administration has done a good job of staying competitive with the private sector while being good stewards of the taxpayer dollars.”
According to Mollineau, less than four percent of the state’s workforce received bonus pay and it accounted for less than one percent of the entire state payroll. The Legislature’s Oversight Committee will continue its review of the bonuses today (Tuesday).