Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said Thursday that he will recommend a bonus of up to 3 percent for state employees Dec. 1, 2012.

But in order for the bonus to be paid the state needs to have saved $160 million (or twice the cost of the bonus) by June 30, 2012.

 “In these tough fiscal times, while state resources remain scarce, we are once again asking our state employees to identify ways to make government more efficient, reduce unnecessary spending and increase performance,’’ McDonnell said. 

 McDonnell spoke to hundreds of state employees across Virginia late Thursday in his second town hall meeting, informing them about proposals to pump $2.2 billion into the retirement system and offer them bonuses.

Earlier in the day, Better Choices for Virginia, a coalition of businesspeople, nonprofit leaders, local officials and educators, called on McDonnell to protect and create jobs instead of making cuts to schools, health care, public safety and other core services.

Better Choices for Virginia, which advocates for eliminating tax loopholes instead of a cuts-only approach to budgets, delivered a petition to the governor’s office that more than 1,300 Virginians had signed.

“We need a balanced approach. We have to have all issues on the table,’’ said Michael Cassidy, president of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which is a member of the coalition. “The needs of Virginians continue to rise.”

Since the beginning of the recession, the coalition estimates that Virginia has cut $1.3 billion from education, $238 million from public safety and $994 million from health care.

“Over the past decade state spending has increased by 23 percent when adjusted for population and inflation,’’ McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin responded. “Yet these groups believe that taxes should be raised and government should get even bigger. We respect their right to that position, but we respectfully disagree with it. The governor believes that the key to job creation and economic growth is keeping taxes low and making government live within its means. Virginia taxpayers deserve a government that gets more efficient and smarter, not bigger and more expensive.”