Lee tighter on Senate bonuses

After the House speaker doles out $638,000, the Senate leader holds staff merit increases to $115,000.

Published July 21, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Legislature has two chambers, and from the looks of it the last few weeks, two different philosophies on pay and bonuses.

Senate President Tom Lee doled out $86,000 in merit pay hikes to 25 senior Senate staff members this week and almost $29,000 in bonuses to five others.

But the $115,000 total pales in comparison to the $638,000 in bonuses that Republican House Speaker Allan Bense distributed to the House staff last month, an average of $3,200 per employee. He gave no merit raises.

Lee's relative restraint comes as he faces a Republican primary election in his bid to become the state's chief financial officer. His opponent, Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, has charged that Lee isn't fiscally conservative enough to be the GOP nominee.

In a statement released through his office, Lee said the rewards went to staffers heavily involved in the tough issues during the 2006 legislative session, including tort reform, insurance and writing the state budget. All Senate staffers will receive a 3 percent cost-of-living wage hike later this year in the state budget.

"We have an outstanding Senate staff," said Lee, who oversees a staff that is two-thirds the size of the House staff. "These employees do their job, and they do it well."

Lee gave only one $10,000 bonus. It went to his chief of staff, Jay Kassack, who earns a salary of $150,228. Three other top Senate staff members received bonuses in the $5,000 to $6,750 range. A bonus of $1,000 went to longtime Lee aide Ron Pearce, who is leaving state employment at the end of the month.

Two top Senate staff members, communications director Kathy Mears and executive assistant JoAnn Poole, won 10 percent merit raises. Mears earned $83,784 before the raise. Poole earned $55,776.

Merit raises for 23 other top staffers ranged from a high of 8 percent for the insurance committee staff director, Brian Deffenbaugh, to 2.5 percent for Jane Hayes, one of the state's top budget writing staffers. Deffenbaugh's salary was $104,964 before the raise. Hayes' was $112,824.

The lowest-paid staffer to receive a merit raise was lawyer Carolyn Chinn of the Senate Judiciary Committee. She will see a 3 percent hike to her $42,480 salary.

Senate staffers work at the pleasure of the Senate president.