Budget Deal Secures Pay Hike for State Troopers

With the state unable to fill vacancies due to low salaries, lawmakers hope the move will attract and retain talent.

OLYMPIA — A big pay hike from lawmakers and a large graduating class of cadets is boosting Washington State Patrol efforts to ease a persistent shortage of troopers.

This summer, troopers will receive a 16 percent raise while sergeants, lieutenants and captains will get 20 percent as a result of the state transportation budget passed by the Legislature in the waning hours of the regular legislative session. In Washington, the State Patrol is funded through the transportation budget.

On Wednesday, the State Patrol plans to graduate 49 cadets who, once deployed, will put a dent in the 145 existing vacancies in the patrol division.

“That would bring our (vacancy) numbers down to their lowest levels in a long time,” Capt. Monica Alexander said. “We feel like we’re moving in the right direction. What the Legislature has done for us is huge and we believe it is going to make a significant difference.”

It adds an extra degree of happy to this week’s ceremony in the Capitol.

“Graduation is always very exciting,” she said. “It’s a good time for us as we welcome new members to our State Patrol family. And they’ll be excited because they are going to get a big raise.”

A study carried out in 2015 found low salaries hampered the State Patrol’s ability to recruit and retain. Consultants recommended changes in pay, hiring and recruitment to boost morale and stem departures.

At that time, the State Patrol was losing seven to nine troopers a month. It could not recruit enough new troopers to fill existing vacancies as well as openings created when newer hires defected for local law enforcement agencies.

In response, lawmakers provided an across-the-board pay bump in the 2016 session. Collective bargaining agreements negotiated last fall by the governor’s Office of Financial Management and unions representing troopers and officers provided increases to align salaries with those offered by competing agencies.

Those agreements are paid for in the transportation budget, which Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign sometime in May. Agreements with most other state worker unions are covered in the operating budget which lawmakers have yet to act on.

As spelled out in the budget, troopers stand to receive pay hikes of 16 percent on July 1 and another 3 percent in July 2018. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains would get a 20 percent raise this July and another 3 percent a year later. Money also is provided for step increases for longevity and specialty pay.

Starting pay for new troopers will increase $748 a month, pushing their annual earnings from the current $56,100 to $65,076, based on information provided by the State Patrol.

New sergeants will see their salary rise from $86,304 to $103,564 while new lieutenants will earn $121,550, up from $101,292.

With the July raises, salaries of troopers and sergeants will be in line with what the state says is the average earnings of officers in equivalent positions in six other Washington law enforcement agencies as of July 1, 2016. Those agencies are the sheriff’s offices in Snohomish and King counties and the police departments in Seattle, Vancouver, Tacoma and Spokane. An entry-level deputy in Snohomish County earns almost $60,000 a year.

There are signs the prospect of better pay stabilized the State Patrol ranks this year.

Through March 17, there had been 12 retirements. But only one trooper departed to join another law enforcement agency in the state, Alexander said.

“We definitely have turned around some of the retention issues,” she said, noting a new training class for troopers will begin next month.

The transportation budget also provides raises for roughly 1,500 employees of Washington State Ferries in accordance with collective bargaining agreements.

Most workers will receive raises of 5 percent spread over the two-year budget period. About 40 senior employees of the International Organization Masters, Mates and Pilots will receive increases ranging from 8 percent to 24 percent as a result of an award from an arbitrator during negotiations.

Approval of the pay increase is welcome news, and it has had a positive impact on morale, said Brian Mannion, a Washington State Ferries spokesman.

Those larger raises will help retain senior officers, many of whom are eligible for retirement, to train the next generation of mariners, Mannion said. And, at the same time, the increases provide incentive for junior employees to strive.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com Twitter: @dospueblos

More in News & Comment

Federal Way resident Mi’Chance Dunlap-Gittens, 17, died Jan. 27, 2017. Courtesy photo
Law enforcement challenges report on sting operation that killed Federal Way teen

King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight’s findings rattle Sheriff’s Office, police union.

Unstable housing? Apply for Section 8

Applications open in February for housing vouchers

In 2018, the city of Seattle approved and then repealed a head tax within a month. It would have levied a $275 per employee tax on businesses grossing more than $20 million annually. Sound Publishing file photo
County head tax bill passes committee

Bill would let King County levy a tax on businesses to fund housing and address homelessness.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs the first bill of the 2020 legislative session into law. On the right stands the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who is wearing a red tie. Photo by Cameron Sheppard, WNPA News Service
Gov. Inslee signs tax bill to help fund higher education

Law shifts a portion of the tax burden to large tech companies.

King County Metro’s battery-electric bus. Photo courtesy of kingcounty.gov
King County Metro bus fleet will be electrified by 2035

Future base in South King County would house hundreds of the zero-emission vehicles.

Three-quarters of the suicide deaths among children ages 10 to 14 are caused by firearms, according to a new report from the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at the University of Washington. File photo
King County studies youth gun violence amid rising suicides

It’s unclear what’s driving the trend.

Bonsai burglary: trees worth thousands stolen from Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way

The two bonsai, a Silverberry and a Japanese Black Pine, were stolen from the secured public exhibit area early Sunday morning.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.

High tides, as seen in this file photo of Raymond’s Willapa Landing Park in Pacific County, could become the norm in the future due to sea level rise. Sound Publishing file photo
UW summarizes Washington climate impact on water

The report localizes information from the United Nations.

Sound Publishing file photo
King County Council could place roads levy lift on 2020 ballot

Levy could increase taxes for a median home by about $224 a year.

A stump left over from a previous timber cut on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019, in Gold Bar, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lawmakers back timber industry to help reduce WA’s carbon emissions

8 million acres of private forests offset 12% of state’s carbon emissions, says forestry group.

A King County work crew clears a road near Preston on Feb. 7, 2020. Heavy rains appear to have caused multiple landslides along the road. Aaron Kunkler/staff photo
The future could look a lot like this year’s flood season

Climate change is expected to lead to more winter flooding in King County.