Gov. Jim Risch’s office says the $2,000 year-end bonus he gave to one of his employees was actually just an attempt to make up for an earlier record-keeping mixup that meant the employee didn’t get state-paid health insurance for several months. “They goofed up,” said John Sandy, Risch’s chief of staff. “He was paying insurance for he and his family out of his own pocket, somebody that really excels in here and whatnot. … I said, ‘We’ve gotta make this at least partially right with this person, it’s not right.’ There was more out-of-pocket expense than this, but at least it helped make up a little bit of it.”
The payment technically was a year-end bonus, or “short-term merit increase,” according to state records, funded by salary savings – the very thing Risch has criticized outgoing state schools Supt. Marilyn Howard for giving to her employees, though lawmakers directed all state agencies to do just that to reward valued state employees this year. Many did, including outgoing state Controller Keith Johnson and state Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. “The governor isn’t being overly critical of anybody, whether it’s Marilyn Howard or Keith or a department head or anybody,” Sandy said. “Where his big heartburn is, is let’s pay people, let’s not try to skimp and save and hold vacancies. … Gov. Risch thinks you ought to put it in the salary, be right up-front.” State employee salaries long have lagged far behind market levels, which has prompted the Legislature to encourage any salary savings to be spent on bonuses as a way to reward some workers without increasing the state budget.
Risch last week called for a new law to require state Board of Examiners approval before any elected official gives out employee bonuses. Sandy said Risch would’ve been glad to take the issue with his employee to that board. “I don’t think he woulda minded that at all,” Sandy said.