A legislative committee is today likely to approve a pay raise for state troopers. The bad news is that the process of getting to this point left a lot to be desired from the good-government standpoint.
The money to pay for the raises was pushed through the Legislature at the last minute in 2014. It’s basically a new tax. Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers who say they are against raising taxes have several times found ways to raise revenues without taking direct responsibility for them.
The Legislature substantially raised fines for drivers found to have no insurance or out-of-date insurance cards. The moral of the story: It’s fine to raise taxes if you can call it a fine on somebody who does not have a lot of broad support among the public.
The resulting pay raise is a whopping 30 percent, for uniformed officers under the rank of major.
“This is a $53 million tax that will fall mainly on the poor, and it was conceived in the worst possible way, behind closed doors without public debate in the last few hours of a legislative session,” Jan Moller, director of the Louisiana Budget Project, said at the time about the last-minute passage of the bill by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central.
We’re not dreadfully sympathetic to people who drive without insurance, but the Ivey bill ought to have been at least subject to a full hearing and the deliberation that would have weighed what level of fines is appropriate.
If the process were flawed, the troopers are the immediate beneficiaries: The raise would move Louisiana from the 42nd-highest pay among state police troops across the nation to the 20th-highest, just behind Connecticut and just in front of Rhode Island, according to the State Police.
Superintendent Mike Edmonson points out that troopers are doing more, including a significant and needed presence on the streets of New Orleans as that tourist mecca, a vital part of the state’s overall economy, struggles to raise pay and recruit more local officers.
Still, it’s another irony of this story that LSP is going to be cutting its budget, perhaps laying off some of its civilian staff, because of the overall drop in state revenues. But if the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget approves shifting the fines money into a payroll account, there will be raises for troopers amid a major budget crisis.
Troopers for years have been taken care of by lawmakers and governors going back decades.
That’s not such a bad thing, but the tactics used to advance the goal didn’t serve the public interest.