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Secretary McCulloch Opposes Questionable Payouts

February 18, 2009

(Helena) - Secretary of State Linda McCulloch says Montana taxpayers cannot afford to have their hard-earned dollars disappear unlawfully into the hands of political appointees. The Secretary today urged lawmakers to unanimously approve HB576, an act prohibiting salary increases or bonuses to appointed personal staff during an election year. The proposal is sponsored by Republican Representative Wendy Warburton.

"This legislation complements Speaker Bergren's bill, which prohibits end-of-term bonuses," said McCulloch. "These important pieces of legislation protect Montana taxpayer dollars and help ensure that statewide office holders obey the system as intended by law."

Democratic House Speaker Bob Bergren introduced HB358 last week. The bill prohibits statewide office holders from issuing end-of-term-bonuses to appointed office staff, and retroactively halts payment of nearly $60,000 to former Republican Secretary Brad Johnson's executive staff.

Johnson approved the bonuses twenty-one days after he lost November's General Election. Secretary McCulloch became aware of the payments in January, and immediately questioned their legality.

"What Johnson is trying to do is unlawful and unethical, and I think you would have a hard time finding a Montana taxpayer that disagrees with me," said McCulloch.

McCulloch does not oppose state employee performance awards that are based on exceptional accomplishments. These awards reward work above and beyond an employee's defined responsibility and provide an incentive for continued performance.

"Performance awards vary greatly from end-of-term bonuses or other questionable payouts," said McCulloch. "I hope the Legislature upholds the integrity of state government by passing both of these bills."

HB576 received its first hearing on February 18, 2009 before the House State Administration Committee. HB358 was introduced in the same committee a few days earlier on February 13, 2009. Both bills are awaiting executive action.