With Governor Tom Vilsack not making any public appearances in Iowa this week, some of his fellow Democrats in the legislature are defending the nearly one million dollars worth of bonuses Vilsack’s Administration gave state workers the past two years. Nearly one-thousand employees got bonuses of at least a thousand dollars or more.

Senator Mike Connolly, a Democrat from Dubuque, accuses Republicans of trying to link those bonuses with the controversial bonuses paid to executives of a central Iowa job training program. “We’ve been talking about this CIETC bonus situation and it appears to me that there’s an attempt to try to say that there’s a similar sort of thing in state government and that dog won’t hunt,” Connolly says, “the outrages in the CIETC controversy do not carry over to state government.”

Connolly is a member of the Legislature’s Oversight Committee which requested the review of bonuses. Some Republicans on the panel, like Representative George Eichhorn of Stratford, say it’s time to limit the governor’s ability to give such hefty bonuses. “It is a wake-up call about what is going on and what should not be going on in state government,” Eichhorn says.

But another Republican, Representative Jamie Van Fossen of Davenport, says legislators okayed the bonuses by providing state agencies less money than was needed to pay all the workers on their payroll — giving managers permission to layoff some employees and provide bonuses to others who stayed.

“As I recall the last few years as we’ve done the salary bill we’ve done that at a lesser amount — quite a bit over the last few years — and said, you know, that the departments should just figure out how to do it,” Van Fossen says. “They’ve been able to move funds around…and apply these through retention bonuses and other ways to keep employees as they see fit.”

Van Fossen says the “retention bonuses” should have come as no surprise to legislators. According to Van Fossen, executive branch officials like the governor have had the ability to grant bonuses since 1969.

Van Fossen is also cautioning his fellow Republicans from overreacting to the report on state worker bonuses and suggests that the committee retrain its focus on the CIETC situation. “Keep the eye on the prize in the sense that CIETC was the bad seed in all of this,” Van Fossen says.