Troopers who patrol Washington state’s highways are up for an additional 5 percent raise this year under an agreement announced Tuesday in the state Legislature.
Several lawmakers said the raises are first step toward bringing State Patrol salaries in line with pay at other law enforcement agencies in the state.
A recent study commissioned by the Legislature found low pay was one problem driving troopers to quit. Low salaries compared to other law enforcement agencies also hurt the State Patrol’s ability to find new recruits, according to that report.
“We’re losing people to other agencies, and we’re having a hell of a time recruiting,” said state Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma. “We’re down 110 people now. At some point in time, if it’s not a crisis now, it’s going to be even more of a problem soon.”
A compromise on a 2016 supplemental transportation budget includes $5 million that would go toward raises for State Patrol troopers, sergeants, lieutenants and captains. The $5 million will cover 5 percent pay increases starting July 1.
We’re losing people to other agencies, and we’re having a hell of a time recruiting ... it’s going to be even more of a problem soon.”
State Rep. Jake Fey, D-Tacoma, on need for raises for Washington state troopers
It’s less than the $16.3 million that Democratic leaders in the state House originally proposed for raises and corresponding pension costs at the State Patrol. Yet the negotiated budget includes a pledge that a second round of State Patrol raises will occur in 2017.
“That’s the compromise,” said Fey, one of the negotiators on the transportation budget.
The future raises will be based on a survey of salaries at six large law enforcement agencies throughout Washington. Using that salary data, the State Patrol would be required to provide similar-level salaries to its troopers and sergeants starting July 1, 2017.
Captains and lieutenants would be in line for the same raises in 2017 as the lower-ranking commissioned officers.
In 2017, troopers and State Patrol officers would receive additional raises to match what officers are paid at other law enforcement agencies.
State Patrol troopers were already scheduled to receive a 3 percent raise July 1. The 5 percent increases would be awarded in addition to the previously scheduled raises.
Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said that while the money proposed this year for State Patrol raises “doesn’t completely solve the problem,” it’s a good start.
Fain said the new raises, combined with the salary increases the Legislature approved last year, are “the first meaningful steps the Legislature has made toward addressing the problem in several years.”
The transportation budget with the proposed trooper raises cleared the state Senate on a 44-5 vote Tuesday. It now heads to the state House for consideration.
It’s such a puny amount... it’s not enough.
State Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who says troopers deserve an even bigger raise this year
Some lawmakers said they wished the budget gave troopers more than a 5 percent raise this year. “It’s such a puny amount of money... it’s not enough,” said state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner.
Others said the raises do nothing to address other issues raised in the trooper retention report, including complaints of poor management at the State Patrol.
“I think we’ve got to look at the management structure of the State Patrol,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “Why are all these people retiring early and leaving the State Patrol? Not for more money, but partly because the morale is low.”
Jeff Merrill, the president of the Washington State Patrol Troopers Association, wasn’t available to comment Tuesday on how the troopers union views the proposed raises.
A spokesman for the State Patrol, Kyle Moore, said this week that the agency usually doesn’t take a stance on pending legislative proposals.
Still, “Any raise is a good raise,” Moore said Monday.