The Houston Chronicle reports that millions of Texas taxpayer dollars went to bonus checks for state employees without explanation or much oversight.
Austin Bureau Reporter Brian Rosenthal says longstanding governor Rick Perry only gave only one bonus of more than $3,000 in his first 12 years in office, but that changed towards the end of his term.
“In his last month, just his last month, he gave out 16 of those, including $13,000 for his chief of staff, $13,000 for his budget director, $10,000 for his legislative director,” Rosenthal says. “What was notable about Perry was that it was a stark contrast in that he had not given out any bonuses, and then all of a sudden he gave out big ones.”
Rosenthal says that while there are some restrictions on agency spending, Texas gives state officials the freedom to give out unlimited bonuses.
“The way Texas state law works is that agency heads – which the governor is – have the discretion to spend money on bonuses however they want as long as they stay within their budget,” he says.
According Rosenthal, 66 state agencies have given out bonuses of at least $5,000 to an employee who left less than a year later.
“The state has spent – over the past decade – $355 million on bonuses,” he says.
When the Chronicle contacted the agencies, Rosenthal says the repeated response was “this money is being used to retain staff.”
“So we decided to look at that,” he says. “We compared the bonuses data that we obtained to another database that we obtained, which was when employees left less than a year later and still got these large bonuses, about $50 million.
Rosenthal says that while giving bonuses happens on a case-by-case basis, specific relationships are cause for further investigation.
“I think there are legitimate reasons for giving a bonus and that state employees do indeed perform very important work for the citizens of the state,” he says. “I think when somebody is making a salary of $270,000 already – as in the case of the chief of staff of the governor – and got a $13,000 bonus, left the next month and then later joined a political group promoting the governor who gave her the bonus, I think individual cases like that do certainly raise questions.”