Lost amid the criticism in the past two weeks of outgoing Democratic state schools Superintendent Marilyn Howard for giving most of her employees year-end bonuses was the fact that most state agency heads are doing the same – and lawmakers directed them to do just that. Year-end bonuses for state workers come from salary savings in the agency's budget, which can develop because there's a vacancy or another reason why money intended for salaries has gone unspent. The Legislature this year specifically directed all state agencies to use such savings to compensate valued employees "before other operational budget priorities are considered." That line was written into every state agency's budget at the recommendation of a legislative interim committee that studied Idaho's employee compensation system over the past year, because lawmakers recognized that most state workers are seriously underpaid.
According to the state's annual study of its employee compensation, completed Dec. 1, Idaho's state worker pay now lags 15.6 percent below market rates – a slight improvement from last year's 16.5 percent lag. The report recommends that state employees get merit-based increases averaging 5.8 percent next year, at a cost of $37 million to the state general fund – and similar increases each year for the next 10 years.
Meanwhile, more than 20 state agencies gave out bonuses in recent months. Read the full story in today’s Spokesman-Review.