Three state employees were awarded raises in the last year by the administration of Gov. Scott Walker under a longstanding practice of short-term job transfers.
The information was released to WISC-TV under an open records request after Capitol Police Chief David Erwin was awarded a similar raise last month that was ultimately rescinded.
The practice of transferring an employee to a lateral position and giving them a raise, only to send them back to their original position, is a procedure allowed under the State of Wisconsin Human Resources Handbook. But some say given a new round of employees getting large raises from the transfers, the policy should be changed or made more transparent.
John Koskinen is the state's chief economist in the Department of Revenue, and was featured highly in 2012 by the Walker administration as it criticized flaws in the state's job statistics. Koskinen has been a state employee since 1976 and has been appointed to positions in the administrations of Gov. Jim Doyle and Walker. But earlier this year, records show he had four high-level titles within a few days, and then returned to his job at DOR with a nearly 15 percent raise.
Koskinen isn't the only one to receive that type of raise this year. Laura Ellingson, a civil servant who oversees the workers' compensation program, got a 5 percent raise from job swaps. Paula Veltum got a more than 11 percent raise at her job overseeing state facilities, including the governor's residence. Koskinen's raise was the largest, at 14.3 percent. That's in addition to the chief and deputy chief of the Capitol Police getting raises the same way earlier this year.
"Whenever you have taxpayer dollars, it ought to be completely transparent," said Jay Heck with Common Cause Wisconsin. "It shouldn't be a secret. All of us have a right to know who is getting raises in state government and why."
The practice is nothing new in Wisconsin. It was used in the Thompson and Doyle administrations and is defended as the only way to retain employees getting offers in the private sector, since state rules limit traditional raises.
"They'd be much better off if they said, 'We want to keep this person in this position because he or she is very valuable to the state of Wisconsin and here are the reasons why we are advocating they get this kind of pay raise,'" said Heck.
Speaking at an event in La Crosse, Walker told reporters he'll look into it.
"These weren't things that ever approached our desk, so I'd have to take a look at the specifics of those cases," said Walker. "I have about 70,000 employees and certainly we'll look at five out of the 70,000 and what the circumstances might be. But certainly they aren't decisions I made."
Erwin's retroactive raise was rescinded earlier this year after it was discovered that the administration had acted "improperly" in giving it.
In the cases of these three employees, the Department of Administration said it followed state human resources rules for each and was doing its best to retain the employees after they had offers in the private sector.