1. Florida Politics

Rick Scott proposes 5 percent pay raise for 4,000 state law enforcement officers

Florida Highway Patrol officers investigate a 2011 crash in Pinellas County. Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday said he wants to provide troopers with a 5 percent pay raise next year. [MELISSA LYTTLE | TIMES]
Florida Highway Patrol officers investigate a 2011 crash in Pinellas County. Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday said he wants to provide troopers with a 5 percent pay raise next year. [MELISSA LYTTLE | TIMES]
Published Dec. 1, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott wants to reward 4,000 state law enforcement officers with 5 percent pay raises next year, in a move that signifies a major policy shift.

Scott said Thursday that the officers deserve more money, citing their efforts at the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in June and in protecting the safety of Floridians during two hurricanes and a tropical storm.

Scott announced his proposed pay raises at an Orlando highway patrol station, and said it would be in the budget he proposes to the Legislature in January.

"We must always do everything we can to recognize our law enforcement officers and let them know how much we appreciate their service," Scott said in a statement. "It is thanks to their hard work and sacrifice that Florida persevered through these difficult times and has achieved a 45-year crime rate low."

The Republican governor said he has attended 32 funerals for fallen law enforcement officers since he took office in 2011.

Under Scott's proposal, about half of the affected officers work for the Florida Highway Patrol, where the starting pay is so low that FHP troopers frequently leave for better-paying jobs as county sheriff's deputies.

A patrolman's starting pay is $33,977 a year. A 5 percent raise on that salary is $32.67 a week.

Scott said his proposal would cost about $12 million, which isn't even a rounding error for a budget that currently stands at $82.3 billion.

Still, the proposed pay hike signifies a notable departure from Scott's approach to salaries since becoming governor in 2011. Scott has advocated merit-based bonuses for workers — not specific numeric raises. He's pushed performance-based bonuses for state workers in most of his budgets, or one-time raises for specific groups, such as $2,500 for teachers in 2013. Last year, Scott vetoed a $2,000 raise for state forestry firefighters, who did receive a pay raise in the current year's budget.

Most state workers have had only one raise in the past decade, and it was initiated by the Legislature in 2013.

A possible candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018, Scott is now proposing to cover sworn officers who work in nine state agencies. It would go into effect for fiscal 2017-18.

Besides the highway patrol, those intended for the higher salaries would include nearly 500 sworn agents in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Others work for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Department of Financial Services, Lottery, Agriculture and Consumer Services, Business and Professional Regulation, Attorney General and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

All of those officers are represented by the Florida Police Benevolent Association, which is currently negotiating a new contract with the state and has been seeking 8 percent raises.

"It's encouraging," said PBA executive director Matt Puckett. "That's a very good offer."

Scott's pay raise proposal will be controversial because it excludes more than 22,000 correctional officers who work in state prisons, and whose starting salary is lower, at $30,807 a year. A spokesman for the governor, McKinley Lewis, said Scott will make additional budget proposals in the coming weeks.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who will chair the budget committee in charge of most law enforcement spending, said he supports Scott's proposal. But Brandes said a greater need is to raise wages of correctional officers who manage the state prison population.

"Corrections officers are the most glaring problem we have in the state as far as pay right now," Brandes said, citing staff shortages at many rural prisons.

"Often times, counties are offering signing bonuses and higher pay" to lure corrections officers away from state prisons, he said. "I think corrections officers are the No. 1 need we have as far as more resources."

Florida corrections officers last month fired the International Brotherhood of Teamsters as their bargaining agent and rejoined the PBA, a politically active union that long represented them until being displaced by the Teamsters five years ago.

By declaring police pay raises a priority, Scott created an immediate opening for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, to extract spending concessions from Scott in return for supporting police pay raises.

Corcoran opposes the use of taxpayer money for incentives to attract jobs to Florida, which has been a priority of Scott's. The House speaker is also a leading critic of the spending practices of Visit Florida, the state tourism promotion arm that also is a favorite of the governor's.

Corcoran declined to comment on Scott's proposal. He said he would defer to the chairmen of House committees, who will be named by him soon.

Last month, Corcoran cast doubt on the state's ability to pay for two of the priorities of Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart — increased spending for state universities and the environment.

"The budget, I think, is going to be difficult," Corcoran told Capitol reporters last week.

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet.