The first session of the 54th Oklahoma Legislature is well under way with many important issues for lawmakers and Gov. Fallin to consider over the coming months. A budget surplus exists for the first time in several years, and the constitutional “Rainy Day” fund is near its all-time high. While the legislative and executive branches of state government will ultimately determine which issues take priority, it's our hope the current compensation needs of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol can be addressed.
Both of us had the pleasure of serving the state as its chief executive officer. We had the unique opportunity to interact with OHP troopers on a daily basis. These public servants provide 24 hour-per-day protection and courteous, quality professional service to Oklahoma residents and visitors. They patrol thousands of miles of Oklahoma highways, mostly alone. They protect our waterways and skyways, and they assist police departments on a regular basis. In short, the OHP is Oklahoma's law enforcement agency, and the opportunity is present now for the state of Oklahoma to tackle its growing financial and manpower challenges.
Currently, 15 Oklahoma police departments pay new officers significantly more than new OHP cadets, some nearly $11,000 more. OHP troopers have the second-lowest average salary among Oklahoma's seven bordering states. They get no salary increase, unless promoted, after seven years of service. Attrition is a significant challenge, with only 770 troopers currently commissioned to serve — a 20-year low. OHP training academies don't produce enough cadets to offset those lost to higher salaried jobs in addition to the 213 troopers eligible to retire.
What's the solution? We believe sound public policy is a reasonable, affordable salary increase schedule for the OHP, to be more competitive with police department salaries while providing the resources necessary for more effective recruitment, and most importantly, retention of cadets.
Public safety is a core priority of state government, one that must be valued as such. Whether it's the public or private sector, human nature dictates employees will gravitate toward the best-paying jobs within their profession. Law enforcement is no different. While we recognize the give and take that has to occur within the legislative process on the many important issues lawmakers face, we also strongly believe 2013 is the year Oklahoma must make an impactful statement in support of public safety.
We expect troopers to be there for us. We should do the same for them. The opportunity is available. The OHP deserves it. The time to act is now.
Nigh, a Democrat, served as Oklahoma's 22nd governor from 1979-1987. Keating, a Republican, served as Oklahoma's 25th governor from 1995-2003.