Among the most stunning revelations in a story about the proliferance of bonus payments to state agency employees since 2007 is the refusal of lawmakers on a key committee charged with fiscal oversight of the state to even respond to questions about that increase.
The state has more than doubled its bonus payments to workers, from $22 million in 2007 to an annual average of $52 million in the past five years.
RealClearInvestigations emailed or called each of the 15 members of the powerful state Senate Committee on Finance for comment on the practice, which the panel could stop if enough members conclude it is unwarranted spending.
The lone respondent was Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, who said he needs to learn more about the growth of the bonus payouts. “This is something where we want to stay out front of it,” Hancock said. ”There must be a reason for it.”
Here are the bonus payment totals provided by the Comptroller, in dollars:
The grand total comes out to $515,762,623.97.
“That big an increase is not just a guy in a sub office saying, ‘let’s give bonuses,’” said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute. “The word got out or there is some larger policy regarding that kind of payout.”
The committee membership includes public servants perceived as fiscal watchdogs, such as former Harris County tax assessor and committee member Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, who has made property tax reform a mission.
“Paul Bettencourt is a proven leader with an unmatched record as a taxpayer watchdog,” said Texans for Fiscal Responsibility President Michael Quinn Sullivan in endorsing Bettencourt in 2013.
In endorsing state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, now Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said, “When Texas faced a fifteen billion dollar budget shortfall, Larry Taylor fought to cut wasteful spending, make government more efficient and passed a balanced budget — without raising taxes.”
Committee chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, called the 2011 legislative session, “…A session focused on eliminating wasteful spending…” 2011 was the start of the boom in bonus payments.
And Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, vows to voters, “As your voice in the Texas Senate, I will continue to seek out waste and mismanagement in our state government…”
Even the staunchest government watchdogs see the retention benefits of bonus pay, which was at one time prevalent in the private sector but has gone the way of pensions. The state’s employee retention rate has remained around 17 percent for the past five years as bonus payments went up.
But that’s higher than the average of 15.2 percent between 2009 and 2011.
The lack of interest by leading state lawmakers seems misplaced. Discovering how this increase happened remains.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].