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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
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Wisconsin state worker bonuses get in under the wire

The other day someone claiming to be "Deep Throat" (helpfully clarified as "not my real name") left a letter and a floppy disc at Isthmus. The letter called negative attention to the final round of employee bonuses dispensed by the state of Wisconsin in the final quarter of 2008; the disc contained a list of recipients.

"You'll recall that [Gov. Jim] Doyle announced in late November that [the state] would eliminate these payments," wrote Mr. or Ms. Throat. "Seems like a lot of them got in just under the wire."

The list itemizes "discretionary compensation awards" - bonuses - to 82 state employees, including the UW System. A few are lump-sum payments: $1,000 here, $500 there, $3,150 to one UW-Madison supervisor for "new duties." But most are per-hour salary adjustments for merit, equity, new duties and retention that extend permanently into the future. AIG execs, eat your heart out.

One of the highest hikes, a $3.42 per hour bump (more than $7,000 a year), went to state labor relations manager Kathleen Kopp, for "equity/retention." She now makes $101,957 per year. Deep Throat finds this "galling" because Kopp is "in charge of contract negotiations with state employee unions," where the goal is said to be a two-year wage freeze.

Jenny Donnelly, director of the Office of State Employment Relations, where Kopp works, calls this pay hike "a retention bonus," offered because Kopp had been "recruited to leave" at higher pay by another state agency. One way or the other, Kopp was destined for higher pay.

Donnelly says the cutoff for bonuses was Nov. 23, three days after Doyle issued his directive. That means employees like Kopp got upward salary adjustments that will continue year after year while someone scheduled for a pay bump on, say, Nov. 24, got zilch. Isn't that a wee bit unfair?

Maybe, but Donnelly says "nobody has raised that with me." These state workers are a stoic lot.

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