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DOT stops salary bonuses for contractors

Sen. Dave Aronberg hit pay dirt today when his public records request of the Department of Transportation yielded a change in policy that DOT calculations show it could save at least $10 million. Download Senator aronberg 07 28 09

Aronberg, a Greenacres Democrat who is running for attorney general, asked DOT on July 13 for a list of all contracts with private companies that allowed for automatic salary increases for workers that are handling DOT proejcts. Aronberg argued that because of the state's deep budget woes awarding automatic pay hikes to private contractors "was unfair to state workers and unfair to taxpayers."

Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos supplied the list on Thursday and said that she has since changed state policy and is "eliminating any salary modification terms from new contracts and new amendments to existing contracts."

Update: Kopelousos' spokesman Dick Kane said Friday the agency began reviewing contracts after the January special session when lawmakers urged state officials to try to reduce the cost of their private contracts, not as a result of Aronberg's request. 

The agency is reviewing 1,967 consultant contracts and has made changes to dozens of them, amounting to at least $810,000 in savings, according to her agency review. More is expected.Download 1967 Contracts for Aronberg 7-30-2009 request

Aronberg has also asked the Department of Environmental Protection to do a similar review since it has many contracts that also allow for automatic salary hikes and believes other agencies could be forced to make changes to its private contracts as well.

"We're cutting police and cutting teachers. We're demanding more from state employes during these critical budget times and at the same time giving automatic raises to private contractors,'' Aronberg said. "There seems to be a double standards for private workers and state workers.''

Aronberg said Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson raised the issue late in last spring's legislative session and asked Senate President Jeff Atwater to order a review of contracts. Atwater ordered an interim study that would include the salary hikes issue.

But because "nothing happened'' to the existing contracts in the immediate budget year, Aronberg said he decided to follow up with a public records request for the pay hike information.

Aronberg said the issue was brought to his attention by former DOT auditor Deette Preacher but expressed concern that it took a public records request to force the agency to act.

"It took a private citizens to bring it to our attention," he said. "At the very least, there needs to be more sunshine allowed in this process."