News that Gov. Jerry Brown approved a 5.9% pay raise for 6,100 California Highway Patrol officers generated consternation, understandably so. Brown had pledged to hold the line on public employees' pay when voters approved a $6 billion tax hike in November.
Unfortunately, the governor had little choice. An irresponsible deal struck by former Gov. Gray Davis with the California Association of Highway Patrol Officers in 2001 requires that CHP officers receive the average of what five of the highest-paid police agencies in the state pay their officers.
Ideally, pay rates and benefits should be based on the cost of recruiting and retaining good workers. Surveys should serve as guides, and an indication of what the market for good workers is. But no jurisdiction should base pay rates solely on decisions made by other jurisdictions.
Negotiators for one agency can't know what the resources are for another entity. If a city or county doesn't have the money, it shouldn't matter what another jurisdiction pays. In too many cases, surveys lead to the pay equivalent of arms races. Unable to pay inflated rates they promise, cities end up laying off workers.
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There is little reason why pay of CHP officers should be based on what police officers earn in Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland or San Francisco, or in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. They all risk their lives when they go to work. But working as a cop in California's big cities is different than patrolling the state's freeways and highways.
Highway Patrol officers sacrificed during the budget crisis, receiving no raises in 2011 or 2012, and meager increases in 2009 and 2010. For that, they should be commended. However, they are paid well.
In 2012, Highway Patrol officers' average regular pay was $86,837, and 4,707 officers earned more than $100,000 with overtime and other pay, as The Sacramento Bee's Amy Gebert reported earlier this month.
Highway Patrol officers are highly valued state workers. They should be paid well when they're on the job and receive good pensions when they retire. However, their pay should not be tied to police and sheriff's deputies in California's urban cores.