HARRISBURG - Legislative leaders disclosed yesterday that they paid their employees more than $1.2 million in bonuses over the last two years, and Senate Republicans announced that they were ending the practice.
That amount does not include the House Democrats, who provided a very rough one-year estimate of $400,000 and said they expected to have a precise figure available today.
All four caucuses described the payments as performance-based and unrelated to campaign work.
Joseph Scarnati III (R., Jefferson), the Senate president pro tempore, and Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware) said they had recently become aware of the "supplemental payments" and released a list of more than $350,000 in payments from 2005 and 2006.
Nearly all of the Senate GOP payments were authorized by Sens. David J. Brightbill and Robert C. Jubelirer, two top-ranking senators defeated in last year's primary. The amounts ranged from several hundred dollars to $41,405 for Mike Long, one of Jubelirer's top aides and Brightbill's brother-in-law.
Lawmakers and aides said the bonuses had no connection to work done for election campaigns, but freshman Sen. John Eichelberger (R., Blair) said the bonuses were inappropriate.
"I am asking the attorney general to investigate any possibility of political payback with taxpayer funds for a select group of individuals typically involved in campaign work," said Eichelberger, who defeated Jubelirer.
Nils Frederiksen, a spokesman for the attorney general, said late yesterday afternoon that the office had not received a request to investigate.
"The devil's always going to be in the details, and we need to investigate any matter thoroughly before we come to a conclusion," Frederiksen said.
Todd Nyquist, Scarnati's chief of staff, said the payments were legal. "They were simply legislative bonuses, based upon legislative work," Nyquist said.
Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Republican Leader Sam Smith of Jefferson County, said his caucus provides "meritorious or bonus pay" to employees who have reached salary caps or assumed positions with added responsibilities.
House Republicans granted more than $919,000 in bonuses during 2005-06. "It's not just given out willy-nilly," said Miskin, who did not receive a bonus. "And campaign work is not part of it. That would be wrong, and some would argue it is illegal."
Erik Arneson, Brightbill's chief of staff and now Pileggi's communications and policy director, collected more than $22,000 in bonuses.
"I was told by Sen. Brightbill that the bonuses were for work done on legislative issues requiring work well beyond normal hours, such as Growing Greener, eminent domain reform and lobbying disclosure," Arneson said. "It had nothing to do with any campaign."
Senate Democratic Leader Robert Mellow of Lackawanna County disclosed that 12 employees of his caucus were given a total of $38,000 in bonuses last year - up slightly from the year before - for doing high-quality work, taking on additional duties, or putting in substantial overtime or weekend hours. The amounts ranged from $2,000 to $5,000.
State agencies under the governor's jurisdiction give performance bonuses of up to $1,500 to managers, said Kate Philips, press secretary for Gov. Rendell. She said yesterday that agencies were collecting data on the bonuses that would be released publicly.
House Democratic Leader Bill DeWeese of Greene County said his caucus was temporarily suspending the practice of granting bonuses in the expectation that the policy would be addressed by the Commission on Legislative Reform.