A key Republican says it was really no surprise to him and fellow legislators that Governor Tom Vilsack gave a huge bonus to his economic development director. Senator Jeff Angelo, a Republican from Creston who is co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says the surprise was that hundreds of other state employees were getting bonuses.
“A lot of us were surprised by how widely-used the bonus system was being used by this administration,” Angelo says. “It’s being used with some regularity.” Governor Vilsack paid Mike Blouin, his former economic development director, a 59-thousand dollar bonus every year in addition to the top salary possible for that department director’s position.
Blouin talked with Radio Iowa today about that bonus. “What the negotiated agreement was is there would be a salary of $182,000 or something like that, annualized, for as long as I was there,” Blouin says. Blouin left his job as head of the Greater Des Moines Chamber of Commerce in late 2002 to take the top job in the state Department of Economic Development, but it was a pay cut and Angelo, the co-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says the debate among legislators at the time was not about the level of that bonus, but about where the money would come from.
“Where we were concerned over the bonus had to do with actually raising that money out of the private sector,” Angelo says. “Our major concern was that if you were a private sector donor to Mike Blouin’s bonus and then your company then came to the state and asked for an economic development grant that was a definite conflict of interest for the director who would ultimately be handing out the grants.”
Vilsack backed down from his idea of financing part of Blouin’s salary that way, and instead shifted tax dollars around in the state budget to pay Blouin’s bonus. Angelo says legislators did agree that Blouin deserved the bonus. “We wanted to recruit a top-notch person out of the private sector and certainly we were competing with the private sector for a top-notch person in that job,” Angelo says.
Blouin’s bonus was among the list of about a thousand bonuses paid to state workers that were detailed in a report released Tuesday by the Legislative Oversight Committee. Blouin says his own bonus shouldn’t have been a surprise to legislators.
“I’m amazed that it’s even newsworthy,” Blouin says. “It’s a three-and-a-half-year-old story. Nothing’s changed.”
Blouin resigned as Vilsack’s economic development director last July to run for governor and he lost to Chet Culver in the Democratic primary earlier this month. Blouin says his bonus was not paid in a lump sum, but spread out equally in the check he got from the state every two weeks, so he didn’t get a big pay-out just before he left the job last July.
Senator Angelo says legislators believe their agreement to Blouin’s bonus made Vilsack bolder about awarding bonuses to other employees. “In talking about the bonuses that were utilized…by Mike Blouin, this governor took that as license to really use that as a more regular practice than I think previous administrations did,” Angelo says. The report released Tuesday by the Legislature’s Oversight Committee covers just the last two years.