A 16 percent pay raise for state troopers and a measure that would increase the starting pay for correctional officers and provide a 5 percent increase for other officers and state Corrections Department workers won unanimous approval Thursday from a legislative panel.
The two bills, which have a total price tag of nearly $20 million, now advance to the House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee.
Troopers, who haven't had a raise in pay since January 2007, now rank 16th among law enforcement agencies in the state, said Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, author of both bills. A trooper's starting pay would increase from $38,000 to $44,194; House Bill 2145 has a price tag of $7.3 million.
Starting pay for troopers entering the patrol's training academy would be $38,602 yearly, up from $33,192, if the bill becomes law.
“We obviously want the cream of the crop to apply for the academy,” Hickman said.
HB 2146 calls for increasing the starting pay for correctional officers from $11.83 per hour to $14 per hour. All other employees would receive a 5 percent pay increase. It would cost $12.2 million.
Each bill received a 13-0 vote from the House budget subcommittee on public safety.
“It's not only a reasonable request, I think it's a critical request,” said Hickman, the subcommittee chairman. “If we don't address these two specific areas of public safety, we're literally putting these state employees in life-and-death situations.”
Gov. Mary Fallin did not include raises for troopers or correctional officers in her nearly $7 billion budget proposal to lawmakers last month. Lawmakers will have an additional $34 million to appropriate this year, based on the final budget estimate approved this week by a state board.
If the bills win legislative approval and are signed into law, the raises would take effect July 1, the start of the 2014 fiscal year.
Salaries rank low
Hickman said higher pay for correctional officers is needed to combat higher wages and better hours offered by private employers. Only 62 percent of the Corrections Department's 5,800 authorized correctional officer positions are filled.
Oklahoma's pay for correctional officers is the lowest in the region, according to the Corrections Department. Starting pay for correctional officers is $12.98 an hour in Kansas, $13.38 an hour in Texas and $18.88 an hour in Colorado.
About 30 percent of correctional workers in Oklahoma qualify for food stamps, and about 85 percent of the staff qualifies for school lunch programs, Hickman said.
Highway Patrol Maj. Rusty Rhoades said 15 law enforcement agencies in the state, mostly police departments in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas, pay their beginning officers more than rookie troopers earn. Some metro-area police departments pay their rookie officers $44,200 annually.
The pay increase would put trooper pay within 90 percent of the average of the top three municipalities that employ at least 25 officers, he said. Even after the raises, the patrol would still be ranked lower than six municipalities in the state.
Of the six states bordering Oklahoma, only New Mexico pays its troopers less, Rhoades said.
HB 2145 also would authorize the public safety commissioner to annually review the entry level of municipalities with at least 25 officers and average the three highest salaries; the salary paid to cadet patrolmen would be set at 90 percent of that average salary.
Trooper numbers are down to a 22-year low of 774, Rhoades said. The patrol is authorized to have 925 troopers.
The patrol's academy, the first one in about three years, graduated 30 cadets last year; 24 troopers retired in 2012.
No money was authorized during the state's economic downturn, but lawmakers last year made the trooper academy an annual item in the patrol's budget.