JESSUP – Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. announced Friday that he plans to give the state’s correctional officers pay increases averaging 6 percent – the first substantial raise the officers have gotten in 16 years.
“This approach reflects my view of corrections and public safety,” Ehrlich said. “It’s something we talked about during the course of the campaign, and we put our money where our mouth is.”
The pay increases are part of the budget Ehrlich will offer next week – a budget benefiting from the state’s $1.5 billion surplus. In addition to the raises for correctional officers, which will cost about $32 million, Ehrlich said he was also budgeting for a two percent increase in the cost of living adjustment for all state employees. That move will cost about $71 million.
On top of that, state police and police officers employed by other state agencies – such as the department of natural resources and the department of general services – will receive a two percent “market adjustment” on top of the cost of living raise.
In addition, employees with advanced professional degrees who teach in the state’s correctional facilities will receive average pay raises of 14 percent – their first substantial raise since 2001.
The raises for correctional officers, Ehrlich said, were needed to make it possible for the state to attract qualified employees.
The governor said the last time correctional officers got raises other than the cost of living increase granted to state employees was in 1990. He said he had wanted to remedy that situation when he came into office but could not because of the state budget crisis.
Sue Esty, legislative director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said that while the raises for state police and correctional officers would help them financially, they would not make their working conditions any less dangerous.
“We still need to have more correctional officers, better equipment and a safer environment for officers and inmates,” she said. “Overall, we have a long way to go in assuring adequate recognition for the work of state employees.”
Esty acknowledged the cost of living adjustments for all state employees, but said more needed to be done.
“The two percent [cost of living increase] is a start, but it does not make up for the cuts in staff, the huge increase in health costs and the arbitrary terminations of over 300 merit employees,” she said.
Ehrlich praised the willingness of state employees to leave the possibility of higher paychecks in the private sector to “really make a difference in the lives of people.” While he acknowledged that private sector jobs usually pay more, Ehrlich said working for the state “should not be a sentence of poverty.”