Compiled ByDeborah Austin Next year's salary budgets may be signaling an economic rebound, suggests outsourcing/consulting firm Hewitt Associates, Lincolnshire, Ill., in its 26th annual U.S. Salary Increase Survey. While 2003's projected boosts pale compared with 2001's, they outshine this year's increases. The survey projects an average 3.9% increase for salaried exempt employees (compared with 3.6% in 2002); 3.8% for salaried nonexempt employees (3.5%); 3.8% for nonunion hourly workers (3.5%); and 4.1% for executives (3.8%). Another encouraging business-confidence signal emerges in 2003 variable pay budgets, says Hewitt. Variable performance pay is based on performance of company and/or individual in meeting business goals. Healthy budget projections reflect positive outlooks about reaching those goals. In Hewitt's survey, 80% of companies currently have at least one type of variable pay plan, nearly identical to 81% in 2001 and up greatly from 59% in 1995. Average variable pay spending for salaried exempt employees is projected at 10.9% of payroll for 2003 versus 10.5% this year.