The state House of Representatives has passed a bill that would put an immediate freeze on bonuses awarded to state workers.
Given the state of the economy and in light of a report by the Department of Personnel showing state managers handed out $1.9 million in bonuses last year, the Senate should pass House Bill 2998 and send it to the governor for her signature into law.
Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, introduced House Bill 2998 on Jan. 20, and, seven days later, the measure passed the House on a unanimous vote of 97-0.
“I’m concerned that some agencies may be using these bonuses as a way to get around the salary freeze passed by the Legislature last session,” Seaquist said. “It was certainly our intention that everybody in state government would help share the burden during these difficult economic times.
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“Every family and every business in the state is feeling the pinch of this severe recession. This makes clear that last year’s salary freeze includes cash performance awards and any other incentive payments for senior executives,” Seaquist said. “Now is not the time for bonuses.”
A report by the Seattle P-I said Attorney General Rob McKenna awarded $599,000 in bonuses before stopping the program. Fifty-five staff members in the Attorney General’s Office received bonuses of $3,000 each. McKenna handed out 901 bonuses in a staff of 1,321.
While McKenna led the state in the total spent on bonuses, the state Department of Transportation handed out 6,399 awards amounting to a half- million dollars. Statewide, according to the Department of Personnel report, 24 agencies awarded a total of 9,323 bonuses.
That practice will come to an immediate halt if the state Senate passes Seaquist’s legislation and Gov. Chris Gregoire adds her signature to the bill.
Rep. Mike Armstrong, R-Wenatchee, who sponsored the bill with Seaquist, said, “Many of us have been very concerned about the large cash settlements and bonuses paid to certain state employees, particularly those under the Washington Management Services. Several of my colleagues and I spent the last few months reviewing which cash incentives and awards are legitimate, and we did find some cash awards that were excessive and unreasonable,” Armstrong said. “We need this freeze on unreasonable bonuses.”
Seaquist notes that HB 2998 will put a freeze on all bonuses and payments for the rest of the budget cycle, except for small incentive awards, up to $200, to continue in those cases where an agency wishes to recognize exceptional work by front-line staff.
The Senate should speed House Bill 2998 into law.