State Employee Bonuses Raise Eyebrows

Some Workers Get Extra Cash Amid Layoffs

About 75 Indiana Department of Transportation employees are receiving bonuses for their response to a tanker fire, sparking questions about how the state can justify that as layoffs happen in other sectors of state government.

The employees are receiving bonuses that range from $200 to $500 for their "quick and decisive response to the Oct. 22 tanker explosion at the I-465 and I-69 interchange," according to a news release from INDOT.

Will Wingfield, of INDOT, said the awards are going to maintenance workers, bridge inspectors and construction supervisors -- workers who logged more than 1,400 hours as the interstates were inspected and repaired.

"The awards represent about 1 percent of the awarded employees' total annual salaries," the news release said. That adds up to about $25,000 in additional expense coming out of state coffers.

State workers are not getting raises for a second straight year as Indiana copes with a bleak revenue picture brought about by economic woes and a resultant decline in tax money.

"Although the state is unable to afford employee pay raises for a second straight year, these spot bonuses recognize on behalf of the motoring public the employees working night and weekend hours, many of whom were salaried and not eligible for overtime," said INDOT Commissioner Michael Reed in the news release.

However, when pressed on the issue by 6News' Kara Kenney, Reed said, "It's not a bonus. It's a recognition for an exemplary job in an emergency. This was a situation where employees worked long hours four days in a row."

The employees who received bonuses include highway technicians who make a little more than $20,000 a year, but the majority of extra cash was given to engineers, managers and supervisors, including the construction director, who makes $91,499.

"They're the exception rather than the rule. I don't recall anybody at $90,000," Reed said.

Gov. Mitch Daniels began awarding "spot bonuses" in a program launched in 2006 to promote and reward increased efficiency and performance in state workers, but it's up to each agency to award them.

"I think it's the right message, because it's the only way to recognize superior performance," Reed said.

An Indiana State Police representative told 6News that no troopers received bonuses, though some worked overtime during the tanker crash. The Department of Natural Resources also did not award bonuses to staff for response to the tanker explosion.

Daniels allocates about $3 million a year for the program, which is ongoing despite the recent layoffs of dozens of workers in other areas, including 42 motor carriers from Indiana State Police earlier this week.