Bonuses come with expectations

By The Gazette Editorial Board


Gov. Terry Branstad has been fielding questions lately about healthy bonuses his administration has paid to three top state department directors. We think that’s appropriate and necessary.

Although it’s easy to find the salaries authorized by lawmakers for top bureaucrats, figuring out how much bonus pay they’re also receiving takes some digging. The Gazette’s Erin Jordan did that digging, and came up with $128,000 in bonuses. Department of Revenue Director Courtney Kay-Decker received $20,800 in extra pay for housing costs. K. Brian London, the Department of Public Safety director hired in October, received a recruitment bonus of $16,110. And Debi Durham, director of the Economic Development Authority, has received more than $90,000 in retention bonuses.

We’re not strictly against bonuses beyond salary caps for exceptional state employees. But taxpayers and the lawmakers who represent them shouldn’t have to wait for an investigative report to get the details. At the very least, bonuses should be transparent and reported on a regular basis by the executive branch.

Branstad says bonuses should reward achievement, although some of these bonuses were paid to executives who had yet to build much of a performance track record. We agree with the governor. Bonuses should be tied to performance. And performance measurements should be specific. For example, bonuses for Durham could be tied to net gains in job creation, a rise Iowans’ median household income or the number of new businesses attracted to the state.

With specific performance goals, Iowans would have a better understanding of why top leaders are receiving extra pay. They also would better understand how a governor seeking to freeze pay and increase health insurance contributions for thousands of other state workers in less lofty positions can also justify large bonuses for those at the top.

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