Incentives for state managers face freeze

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers applied the brakes Wednesday to a program that steered nearly $2 million in bonuses to state managers and executives.

On a 97-0 vote, the House approved a bill suspending the practice of state agency leaders rewarding the performance of management employees with merit pay and cash incentives. The freeze is in effect through June 30, 2011, the end of the current budget.

The measure is in response to a December report showing 9,323 incentive payments totaling $1.9 million were made between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009. The average award was $204.

That analysis showed the largest chunks were $599,000 spent in the Office of Attorney General and $562,300 in the Department of Transportation.

“We didn’t come up with Goldman-Sachs,” Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, the bill’s author said in the floor debate, a reference to huge bonuses to Wall Street executives.

With a $2.6 billion budget deficit, the state needs to take even small steps to reel in spending and this is one such stride, he said.

The proposed law targets recruitment and retention incentives and “growth and development” bonuses provided management employees often in lieu of salary increases.

However, awards of up to $200 could still be doled out to front-line staff to recognize their achievements such as discovering ways of cutting state expenses.

The bill now headed to the Senate for consideration is House Bill 2998.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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