Scott continues push for law officer pay raises


TAMPA, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott urged legislators Monday to back his proposed 5 percent pay raises for state law enforcement officers in the 2017-18 budget --- and hinted the plan could grow to include corrections officers.

"It's the right thing to do," said Scott, whose $11.7 million proposal would boost the salaries of some 4,000 officers such as state troopers, Capitol police and wildlife law-enforcement officers.

Scott continued trying to build support for the raises during an appearance in Tampa, after rolling out the initiative last week in Orlando. The governor in early 2017 will release a full budget proposal, which will serve as a starting point as lawmakers draw up a final spending plan for the fiscal year that starts in July.

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Citing a 45-year low in Florida's crime rate and a rash of recent police killings nationally, Scott said a raise for sworn law enforcement officers ---- whose last raise came in 2014, when all state workers received increases --- was overdue.

Scott said state police deserve to be rewarded for their "life-saving work," while Florida Highway Patrol Col. Gene Spaulding said "some glimmer of hope" for raises was necessary to adequately recruit and retain officers.

But the proposed eight-figure allocation could put him at odds with some legislative budget writers, who say there might not be enough money to fund it.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, laid out an austere vision for next year's budget in comments during the Legislature's organization session last month.

Corcoran said he forecasts the state will begin budget talks "somewhere between a half-billion to a billion dollars in the hole" compared to previous projections, which indicated a meager $7.5 million surplus.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is more bullish on the issue of state law-enforcement raises, however.

Latvala affirmed his support for Scott's plan via social media last week, tweeting "I commend the Gov for his proposal. These men & women keep our state safe. They've only had 2 pay raises in 9 yrs."

Scott did not specifically address the recent budget projections but said he thinks robust tax revenues and population growth in recent years make the raises viable.

Scott also refused to rule out granting Florida Department of Corrections officers a similar raise, which could put the governor's proposal even further apart from the budget designs of House leaders.

"They're hard workers, correctional officers. State workers work really hard," said Scott, adding he would consider further proposed raises as he rolls out additional aspects of his budget plan in coming weeks.

During the 2013 round of state worker raises, law enforcement was singled out for an additional $10.3 million in pay hikes -- 3 percent for all officers, with an additional 2 percent for those with more than five years of experience.

Scott tied his new pay-raise pitch to the deadly mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June, as well as a series of severe storms this year in which officers faced danger.

"Right now, for whatever reason, it's risky to put on a uniform right now," said Scott.