TALLAHASSEE - As he eyes a run for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday unveiled the first piece of his pending election-year budget proposal: a $30 million pay raise for state law-enforcement officers.
The initiative would provide the boost in the budget year that begins in July 2018. It would come on top of a 5 percent increase for law enforcement officers in the current budget year.
Speaking at a Florida Highway Patrol office in Jacksonville, the governor said that many law enforcement officers were grateful for the latest salary bump.
"But we cannot stop there," Scott said. "The brave men and women who serve Florida as members of our state law-enforcement community work every day to keep Florida communities safe. And while I was proud of this important achievement, it's clear that we must continue to build on this year's pay raise."
The next budget Scott proposes will be the last before he leaves office because of term limits in January 2019. At the same time, he is ramping up an expected challenge to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, an incumbent Democrat up for re-election in 2018.
In the meantime, the governor has been sprinting across the state and highlighting politically popular measures like the recent raise for law enforcement officers.
Heads of the state's major law-enforcement agencies, on hand for Wednesday's announcement, said the proposed raises would help them hire and keep employees that they now sometimes lose to local police forces.
"We can't afford to continue to train these highly qualified young men and women to go out and defend the streets and the public safety for the state of Florida, only to lose them to other states, other agencies within the very near future just because they're not making enough money," said Col. Gene Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen said the increases could help him hire the more experienced personnel that his agency seeks.
"It's getting more and more difficult to recruit those seasoned investigators when local agencies are paying more than the state investigative agency," Swearingen said.
Scott's office said the state's law-enforcement agencies would work out the details of how the $30 million would be distributed. And the Legislature would still have to approve Scott's plan in its annual session, which begins in January.
It is likely to have at least some politically powerful allies. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose agency employs law-enforcement officers and who is running to succeed Scott in 2018, applauded the plan.
"Our state law-enforcement officers deserve all the support we can give them, as they've achieved a 46-year crime low and face unprecedented challenges, such as the current opioid crisis," he said. "Our 240 law enforcement officers with the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement and their peers at other state law enforcement agencies deserve a raise."