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posted: 4/21/2012 12:01 AM

Wisconsin gives $765,000 in bonuses despite budget hole

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Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker established a program that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars in merit raises and bonuses to some state workers even as he preached cost-cutting and pushed through a law reducing most public workers' pay and eliminating their union rights.

An analysis of data The Associated Press obtained through an open records request showed Wisconsin agencies have handed out more than $765,000 in bonuses and merit raises this year to nearly 220 employees.

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The awards are meant to reward stellar performance. But they come as the state faces a $143 million shortfall and after thousands of state workers took pay cuts through provisions in the collective bargaining law requiring them to contribute more to their pensions and health care.

Walker, who faces a June 5 recall election prompted by anger over the collective bargaining law, prides himself on fiscal restraint.

The Republican governor wasn't available for comment Friday. His spokesman, Cullen Werwie, referred questions to Walker's top aide, Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, who said the governor established the program because he felt it was important to mirror the private sector and provide rewards for outstanding work.

"It is a tool for a manager to go in and say this person truly set themselves apart," Huebsch said.

Agency managers must find the money within their own budgets, he added; the state doesn't provide money specifically for merit compensation.

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