Romano: Florida loves its troopers, right up until payday

Florida Highway Patrol troopers secure the scene after a fatal accident in Orange County earlier this year. [Red Huber | Orlando Sentinel via AP]
Florida Highway Patrol troopers secure the scene after a fatal accident in Orange County earlier this year. [Red Huber | Orlando Sentinel via AP]
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Holy smoke, did you see the starting salary figures for Florida Highway Patrol officers outlined in a recent Tampa Bay Times story?

I was stunned that state troopers in Florida begin their careers making $33,977 a year. That seems like an absurdly low figure for a job of significance and responsibility.

Reporter Jeremy Wallace astutely pointed out that Florida's starting wage is quite a bit lower than some neighboring Southern states not exactly known for their high cost of living.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet

It all made me wonder how trooper pay in Florida compares with other state employees, considering the occupational hazards and expectations unique to different jobs.

Let's say, for instance, state legislators.

Senate and House members in Tallahassee earn $29,697 annually for a part-time job, or $4,280 less than a starting trooper's full-time salary.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that doesn't sound terribly equitable. But I could be wrong. After all, there are some differences in the perks and hassles in each career.

For example:

Expenses: Legislators are eligible for $152 per diem for each day in session. For the recently concluded 60-day session, that works out to $9,120. And since legislators failed to pass a bill regarding medical marijuana, they could soon be back in session and picking up more per diem. State troopers, on the other hand, get $500 a year for dry cleaning their uniforms. So, there's that.

Risks: Troopers engage in high-speed chases and encounter gun-wielding criminals. House members must answer to Speaker Richard Corcoran for their votes. Okay, that one might be a wash.

Supplemental funds: Moonlighting as security at a movie theater or directing traffic for Sunday church services can earn troopers some extra pay. Throwing lavish fundraising parties at restaurants or on charter fishing trips or at football games can mean thousands going into the campaign accounts for lawmakers, who can then turn around and spend the money on beautiful, young "consultants.'' (Much thanks to Sen. Frank Artiles for that one.)

Working conditions: Troopers sit alone in a car on the side of a road, dedicated to protecting us from mayhem. Legislators sit together in a historic chamber, dedicated to whatever directive was recently sent out by their party leaders.

All in all, I'm going to say that troopers have it rougher than lawmakers. And considering those same legislators are in charge of approving law enforcement budgets, that seems rather ignoble.

You might be interested in knowing that Georgia tackled a similar problem this year. Faced with salaries that were too low for state law enforcement positions, the governor and legislators approved a 20 percent pay hike that will boost salaries to $46,422 upon trooper school graduation.

Florida's budget calls for a 5 percent raise, which is the first increase in three years.

In the end, this should be about public safety. And understanding that it's better to invest in salaries rather than blowing money on constant recruitment and training due to high turnover.

This should be about recognizing that a lawmaker's job is to make decisions that improve quality-of-life, rather than padding a resume with campaign-friendly tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

This should be about doing what's right.

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