The six state employees who turned down a reward of $10,000 each for saving taxpayers nearly $6 million showed uncommon character and a selfless approach to their work.
"We felt it was part of our job," Chris Christopher, a director of maintenance at the Department of Transportation, said as he explained the group's decision not to take the whole prize. "This is what we get paid to do."
The DOT workers noticed the state was paying a lot more for salt used to de-ice highways than other states did during the national road-salt shortage of 2008. They took action and sought to change the state bidding process so less expensive salt could be purchased. This saved about $1.9 million the first year and about $5.8 million overall, state officials said.
The workers did agree to accept a token reward for their innovation, a reward of $1,000 split six ways.
And while we believe these six DOT workers deserve our praise and admiration for their innovation and selfless approach to their jobs, it was a mistake for them not to accept the bigger reward. The state should have insisted they take the cash -- they more than earned it.
Allowing the workers to turn down the big bonuses undercuts the aim of the program, which was established to encourage state employees to submit money-saving ideas.
Yes, many (like the DOT crew) will continue to work at a high level and do their best to save tax dollars, but that feeling the effort is truly appreciated and rewarded will be muted.
The bottom line is those who go that extra mile should get more than a thank you. The extra cash is a way taxpayers (and state officials) can demonstrate their appreciation to hardworking, innovative employees.
Ironically, this won't make much difference in the next few years as the Legislature suspended the program because of the current financial crisis. The state cut nearly $5 billion in proposed spending to balance a budget hit hard by higher medical costs and lower tax revenues.
The move seems somewhat shortsighted as this program, which is administered by the state Productivity Board, has saved the state $60 million since it began in 1983.
The Legislature needed to find savings right now and wasn't willing to gamble that an idea or two would pop up that would result in the program paying for itself. These are tough times for state government.
Nevertheless, we would hope this program will be reinstated as soon as the economy improves and the cash crunch eases. And when that happens, officials must insist workers accept their bonus for money-saving ideas.
Rewarding employees for doing their jobs really well -- as these DOT employees did -- is simply the right thing to do.