MADISON (WKOW) -- For the first time, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen responded Friday to questions on his awarding of nearly $300,000 in merit bonuses last month, including merit raises to his top political appointee, and that appointee's wife.
The $289,000 in discretionary merit compensation awards involved 93 department of justice employees, more than a third of which are what officials said are hard-to-retain DNA analysts. A $5,000 merit salary increase went to deputy attorney general Kevin St. John, Van Hollen's top political appointee. A $4,000 merit salary increase went to St. John's wife, Rebecca Rapp St. John.
On approving 93 bonuses, while declining to provide merit payments to more than three hundred other employees, Van Hollen said merit pay can help retain top workers and motivate others.
On the salary bump for St. John, Van Hollen said St. John was appointed at a salary lower than his predecessor, Ray Taffora, and has proven himself.
"They all see how hard my top political appointee works. And I tell you what, there is nobody who's paid attention to the work product that he has done and how many hours he works who ever questioned he deserved every penny we could possibly pay him. I think the people in the department of justice recognize that."
The Associated Press reported merit bonuses statewide totaled $765,000, with nearly $300,000 in bonuses to workers in the UW-System.
27 News requested similar information from the department of administration last month, but DOA officials have yet to respond. 27 News collected bonus payment information from individual state entities, including DOJ and the UW-System.
Last week, Governor Walker told 27 News there was a moratorium on any merit pay-hikes to workers under his control, until he could be assured of pay equity across state government, and more resources were available. The state faces a $143 million shortfall.
Van Hollen said cost efficiencies at DOJ led to savings used to fund the bonuses.
Despite Walker's claimed restraint on any bonus payments, all merit-pay this year was approved by his administration.
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