On merit pay, Walker channels Doyle

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[img_assist|nid=88615|title=Stick it to them|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=130|height=135]A supposed carrot in the Walker administration's pile of sticks called the state employee compensation plan is the creation of discretionary merit raises intended to reward exemplary performance. Now, the Walker administration has budgeted absolutely no money for such merit pay. so if a state manager wants to reward a valuable employee (or a favored political appointee of the administration, or a suck-up, or, heck, even a relative), that manager will have to come up with the money by whacking something else in the office budget. Say, perhaps, another worker's position. Or a valuable public program. Not to worry, because, according to the plan, the administration will look over the shoulder of any manager who decides to run this gauntlet, and second-guess the decision.

Whatever. In any event, this merit plan is being touted by the administration and GOP legislators as a great advance toward a more business-like way of running things. It is, you know, the modern conservative mantra: Make workers accountable (while making the bosses unaccountable) and they'll perform at a higher level. Then, management will reward that, and the cycle of life will continue. Of course, the tacit message is that Democrats don't believe in merit pay. Or do they?

Let's jump into our Wayback Machine and flit back through space-time to November 5, 2008. That day, as an Associated Press story reported, Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle announced his decision to suspend what was then another system of state merit pay raises and bonuses. Doyle said the suspension was unfair to hard-working state employees but necessary to balance the budget.

"Records released Monday show state agencies awarded more than 1,500 discretionary pay raises and bonuses to employees over a 15-month period that ended Oct. 1," the AP story reported. "The discretionary pay increases are given to reward merit, retain employees and compensate those who take on additional duties, among other reasons. But Doyle said last week he was suspending them as one of several measures to reduce the state's projected $5.4 billion budget deficit."

So, a liberal Democratic governor was employing merit pay raises and bonuses on a wide scale until he stopped in order to balance the budget. Along comes conservative Republican Walker, who freezes pay and slashes benefits, then reactivates the merit pay program leaving the impression it's some great new innovation. And his reason? To balance the state budget. Same reason that Doyle listed for stopping merit pay.

Under Doyle, merit salary raises totaled $4.5 million in 2007. It's possible, I suppose, that Walker's managers might approve larger amounts, but then again maybe the entire process as reintroduced by the new administration would be too cumbersome, given the need to find dollars in other budget lines to come up with the money. In any case, this level of merit pay is pretty much chump change given the size and scope of state government. That doesn't mean it isn't a bad idea.

The bottom line is that the State of Wisconsin has increasingly moved in recent years to a system where the nominal pay-grade system has been corrupted by special raises and bonuses and "market" money to hire new workers above the minimum (lest recruits avoid Wisconsin because of its below-market wages). This is why for many years the state had a laudable civil-service system that was built precisely to ensure an equitable pay system, and to resist such manipulations. Not a bad idea given government's highly political environment and its history of tending towards corruption.

Now, however, Walker has borrowed a page from Doyle and will once again start picking winners and losers in state government, just as he's using revenue policy to pick winners and losers in the state's public schools and municipal offices.

In short, Scotty: Been there, done that. Yet you claim Doyle didn't produce, even though state job growth under the Democrat was far more robust than now. Well, good luck employing aother of your predecessor's methods, and good luck trying to pass it off as a great new Walker innovation.