Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed giving all state employees a $1,000 bonus to recognize their work during the coronavirus pandemic. That is a generous gesture, but it seems a bit too much.
We are big fans of bonuses as a reward for good work, but bonuses for everyone turns them into a windfall for some people who did not do anything extraordinary.
While many state employees have shown remarkable devotion to their work, confronting the dangerous COVID-19 virus by continuing public contact, many others have been working from home.
We don’t disparage the problems of working from home, but it is not in the same league as being face-to-face with the public.
And, to be honest, some sectors of the state government, for whatever reason, have not functioned in an exemplary manner during the crisis. Are those workers to be rewarded as well?
The bonuses, which would cost $74.1 million, were announced by the governor Monday to general praise from legislative leaders, so the path to approval of a supplemental appropriation seems to be well-paved.
“This supplemental budget recognizes the hard work of our state employees, who have overcome significant challenges to deliver essential services to Marylanders during this public health emergency,” Hogan said in a prepared statement.
While that is true for some, we would remind the governor and the legislators, it is not true for all.
The governor’s statement added: “I want to especially thank our front-line workers, including police officers, healthcare workers, highway maintenance workers, and all of our dedicated public servants for their exceptional service.”
That is an entirely justifiable argument in the case of those workers who did not have the option of sheltering at home to continue working but had to steel themselves to venture into the world. Health care workers? Absolutely. Police officers? Of course. Highway maintenance workers? Yes, they deserve a bonus, too.
But what about the people who oversaw the planning for the bungled vaccine rollout? Should those responsible for that failure get an extra grand too?
What about the people staffing unemployment offices? As we reported recently, many Marylanders say they are still waiting to hear back from the Department of Labor about unemployment benefits almost a year after the pandemic began. Do those workers and the supervisors who direct them represent “exceptional service?”
Our point in singling out problems in those two agencies is just to remind everyone that not all parts of the government operated seamlessly during the pandemic.
Perhaps some workers in those agencies did do great work this year in the face of many challenges. They may deserve recognition and praise. But bonuses for good work should depend on an assessment of unusual merit in an employee.
We could not argue against a plan to reward all front-line workers not able to work safely from home who showed up in the face of a once-in-a-century challenge.
And we would support singling out employees in every department who performed far beyond expectations, including in health planning and employment services, to get a financial reward as well.
But we are pretty sure that does not include every single state employee. Giving everyone a bonus diminishes the efforts of those who displayed determination and, yes, bravery in delivering meritorious service, and it diminishes the impact of the reward for those who have worked hard to earn it. Let’s focus our recognition on them.